The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

“Rich Men North of Richmond” is a Poor Debut for Oliver Anthony

I love protest songs.

Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” the Clash’s “London Calling,” and Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” are some of the greatest songs of all time, are titans of the genre and will all be on my Spotify Rewind this year.

Oliver Anthony’s No. 1 single, “Rich Men North of Richmond,” will not be on that time-honored list.

Anthony’s song, which was uploaded to YouTube Aug. 8, gained instant traction with right-wing media outlets and personalities and quickly became one of the most popular songs in the country, even playing at the GOP debate Aug. 24.

Anthony sings about the plight of small-town Americans, blaming the titular “Rich Men North of Richmond” for many of the issues plaguing our country.

What’s unique about this song, politically charged though it may be, is that it isn’t much of a call to action to seek change or to vote or to lobby – rather, it feels much more defeated. 

Again, cornerstones of the protest genre like “Fight the Power” and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” are direct calls for change and don’t use defeatist language, instead using their runtime to inspire the audience to work for social and political change.

Lyrics like “Wish I could just wake up and it not be true / But it is, oh, it is” make Anthony seem like he’s abandoned all hope, which could be poignant if before the lyric he had sung about more than low wages, which most politicians north of Richmond are seeking to raise.

He specifically cites the abuse of welfare by obese people as another issue that politicians enable. Of course, Anthony is overlooking the fact that unhealthy food, like the fudge rounds mentioned in the song, is often cheaper than nutritious food.

And lines like “Young men are putin’ themselves six feet in the ground / ‘Cause all this damn country does is keep kickin’ them down” say the quiet part loud, which is that Anthony believes that all recent social changes in the country are at the expense of men, which is rhetoric that is often used by far-right pundits.

And the flawed arguments don’t stop there.

In blaming only the rich men that are north of Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy, Anthony evokes the Mason-Dixon line, which divided the country between slave and free states in the Civil War. 

This sentiment perpetuates the North-South divide and indicates that Anthony really only has issues with Northern politicians, while overlooking Southern politicians like Ron DeSantis or Marjorie Taylor Greene who pander to small-town Americans while passing laws that hurt veterans and disadvantaged people.

If you ask Anthony, though, you’ll find that he doesn’t take a side. In a recent video uploaded to his YouTube channel, Anthony said that he never intended the song to be used by politicians like it was at the GOP debate and that the song isn’t just about Joe Biden. It’s about all politicians.

The sentiment is nice, but there’s a difference between an artist’s intention and what their art is communicating.

When Anthony sings about high taxes or loose welfare restrictions, he’s not singling out all politicians. He’s saying that Northern liberals are strangling the American small-town life when, in reality, it’s mostly conservative politicians who are cutting social programs and voting against higher living wages.

Additionally, for how much the song seems to be anti-big government, it feels a bit rich for Anthony to come out as bipartisan after advocating for so many of the changes sought by GOP politicians.

You can’t play for both sides but fight for only one.

About the Contributor
Zach Kennett, Sports Editor
Zach Kennett is a first-time journalism student and first-time member of the Claw. He currently serves as the co-editor-in-chief of The Tiger, which is the school’s yearbook. He formerly served as the managing editor. He has also won two sectional titles in scholastic journalism, with one being in news writing and the other being in sports writing. Zach enjoys spending his (dwindling) free time with his dogs, playing video games, cooking or driving his truck, Hank. Being a member of the Claw is important to him in that he was previously mentored by former Claw members and looks forward to leaving his mark on the publication.