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Who is Oliver Anthony? How the singer's No. 1 song became political

Oliver Anthony Music blew up on the internet and on the Billboard charts, and that rise has thrust him into political controversy.
Who is Oliver Anthony? How the singer's No. 1 song became political
Posted at 5:52 PM, Aug 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-29 17:52:07-04

From Taylor Swift to Travis Scott, the Billboard Hot 100 chart is typically dominated by familiar, already chart-topping artists. 

Then came Oliver Anthony Music.

The country singer-songwriter's viral hit "Rich Men North of Richmond" is currently sitting atop the Hot 100 chart for a second week in a row. After debuting at No. 1 in the week ending Aug. 17, the song made Anthony the first artist to ever top the list without any prior chart history in any form.

This week, "Rich Men North of Richmond" became the most-streamed song with 22.9 million streams, an increase of 31%. Of the 34 songs to premiere atop the Hot 100 this decade, Billboard says Anthony's song is only the second to increase in streams in its second week.

And even though it's not being promoted to radio, the song's airplay audience impressions came in at 2.3 million, an increase of 310% according to Luminate.

He's captured the top spot from fellow country singers Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen, who have held the high ranks in recent weeks, and has been able to avoid really any marketing to get him ahead. But there's one thing the singer and his widely shared song couldn't avoid: Being in the public eye.

From how he got his start to what he thinks of his future, here's everything we know about Oliver Anthony Music.

Who is Oliver Anthony?

Before he was thrust into the spotlight, Anthony was an everyday, blue-collar civilian.

Anthony dropped out of high school at age 17 in 2010 but did earn his GED, he said in a Facebook post.

He then worked at multiple plant jobs in North Carolina, but a fall at a paper mill job there led to him fracturing his skull. This forced him to move back home to Virginia, where he had worked since 2014 in industrial manufacturing until his music blew up around two weeks ago.

And despite receiving million-dollar offers these days, the singer said he still owes about $60,000 on the property he bought for $97,500 in 2019. He lives on the land in a 27-foot camper with a tarp on the roof that he said he bought off Craigslist for $750.

As for venturing into music, the singer, whose legal name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford, said he chose his artist name as a dedication to his grandfather, Oliver Anthony, and the 1930s Appalachia where he was born and raised.

"Dirt floors, seven kids, hard times," the post said. "At this point, I'll gladly go by Oliver because everyone knows me as such. But my friends and family still call me Chris. You can decide for yourself, either is fine."

He started posting on TikTok, where he initially gained traction. Then a live video of him singing "Rich Men North of Richmond" was uploaded to the radiowv YouTube account, which spotlights unsigned country and Americana artists in the region where he resides, blowing the song up even more.

How did "Rich Men North of Richmond" become part of the political world?

"Rich Men North of Richmond" has undoubtedly struck a chord with a wide audience, and that audience includes people in politics, many of whom haven't understood Anthony's lyrics the way he intended.

The song references high taxes, hard work and politicians who don't look out for the everyday worker — a message conservatives have embraced as their battle cry. 

On Aug. 23, the first question asked at the first Republican presidential primary debate was, "Why is ['Rich Men North of Richmond’] striking such a nerve in this country right now?" — a question Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis responded to with critiques on President Joe Biden and the "decline" of the U.S. because of him.

Soon after, Anthony — who has said he sides "pretty dead center down the aisle" politically — posted a lengthy YouTube video to express his frustration with the political weaponization of his words.

He expressed it was "aggravating" seeing people on the Republican stage and in conservative news try to "identify with me like I'm one of them."

"It was funny seeing my song at the presidential debate cause it’s like, I wrote that song about those people," he said.

Anthony goes on to say the song is "a lot bigger than Joe Biden," though the message still includes the president's politics.

"It's hard to get a message out about your political ideology or your belief about the world in three minutes and some change, but I do hate to see that song being weaponized," he said. "I see the right trying to characterize me as one of their own, and I see the left trying to discredit me, I guess in retaliation. That s***'s gotta stop."

Anthony also uses the video to discuss some criticism coming from the left on the lyric "obese milking welfare," which he said actually references an article he read about teens in Richmond missing meals in the summer because parents couldn't afford to feed them without school-provided lunches.

Despite these mischaracterizations, Anthony was happy to see a positive response from "such a diverse group of people," which he said he thinks "terrifies the people that I sing about in that song."

"At some point, I will dissect all my lyrics of all my songs if that's what I need to do," he said. "It's like it's driving people crazy to see the unity that's come from this, from all walks. This isn't a Republican and Democrat thing."

SEE MORE: Eminem asks presidential candidate to stop using his music in campaign

What does Anthony think about where his career is going?

The success surrounding Anthony isn't something he planned for, nor is it something he really wanted. 

In his Facebook post two weeks ago, Anthony said he never wanted to be a full-time musician. He said the song was uploaded with the hope of maybe hitting 300,000 views, but now, he's now sitting in a "weird place" in his life.

"There's nothing special about me," he said in the post. "I'm not a good musician, I'm not a very good person. I've spent the last 5 years struggling with mental health and using alcohol to drown it."

But whether he intended to or not, this "weird place" has brought offers some only dream to receive, but ones Anthony has declined.

"People in the music industry give me blank stares when I brush off 8 million dollar offers," he said in the post. "I don't want 6 tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. I don't want to play stadium shows, I don't want to be in the spotlight. I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression. These songs have connected with millions of people on such a deep level because they're being sung by someone feeling the words in the very moment they were being sung. No editing, no agent, no bullshit. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place."

He echoed this thought in the video posted Friday, saying the music industry is dirty and "worse than you think."

As for his future in the business, he doesn't know what it looks like, and he's not too concerned about it. He said he's living in the present, but he wants to really consider each decision he makes from here on out so as to not come off the rollercoaster ride a different person.

"I don't know what my music career is going to look like, I don't know how many shows I'm gonna do and how many tours I'm gonna put on," he said. "But I am gonna stay true to my word. I'm going to write, produce and distribute authentic music that represents people and not politics."


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