by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Singer-songwriter Oliver Anthony became an overnight country-folk superstar earlier this month when his independently released single, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
With its sparse arrangement, featuring only Anthony’s raspy vocals and twangy Bobtail guitar, and such timely and poignant lyrics as, “It’s a damn shame / What the world’s gotten to / For people like me / And people like you,” Anthony quickly established himself as a voice for a growing class of people who feel neglected by their elected representatives and the political system more broadly.
It wasn’t long before Anthony’s meteoric rise to the spotlight that politicians began to affiliate themselves with his message, one that struck a chord far deeper than their manicured speeches. During the first Republican presidential primary debate in Wisconsin, Fox News played an excerpt of the viral hit. In the selected portion, Anthony begrudges the burden of taxes and lambastes the “rich men north of Richmond,” a pointed jab at the powerful and aloof elites of Washington, D.C., who, in his lyrics, “just wanna have total control,” suggesting a critique of President Joe Biden’s Democratic policies.
In response, the songwriter demurred, disassociating himself from the political pugilism. “That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden; it’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden,” Anthony remarked. “That song was written about the people on that stage and a lot more, not just them.” …
… The power of the best protest songs lies not in their being paeans to specific political movements. Instead, their resonance stems from their incisive critiques of broader issues that underpin the political system. These aren’t merely the headline-grabbing issues that dominate political debates or election seasons. They dig deeper, challenging systems and structures, rather than suggesting that a simple change of the guard or voting in the perceived “correct party” can offer a panacea.