Less than two weeks ago, unknown singer/songwriter Oliver Anthony (real name Christopher Anthony Lunsford) went unprecedently viral for his conservative, working-class anthem “Rich Men North of Richmond.” Until then, he was an amateur blue-collar musician in rural Virginia struggling with sobriety. But 13 days and millions of streams later, Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs chart. The feat makes him the first artist to launch his career in the No. 1 spot with no prior chart history.
Billboard reports that “Rich Men North of Richmond” earned 17.5 million streams and sold 147,000 downloads in the tracking week ending Aug. 17. Without being promoted on radio, the song also accumulated 553,000 radio airplay audience impressions.
“Rich Men North of Richmond” also debuted at No. 1 on Billboards Digital Song Sales chart and No. 4 on Streaming Songs.
Anthony told Billboard: “The hopelessness and frustration of our times resonate in the response to this song. The song itself is not anything special, but the people who have supported it are incredible and deserve to be heard.”
Everyone from record label executives to rapper Gucci Mane and country conservative John Rich wants to work with him.
“All the major record labels in Nashville are falling over themselves to lure Oliver Anthony,” Rich tweeted. “The irony is, if he would’ve been signed to a label when he wrote this song, none of us would have EVER heard it! His song fried their brains. Their greed is overriding their wokeness.”
The song’s lyrics include: I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bullshit pay / So I can sit out here and waste my life away / Drag back home and drown my troubles away/It’s a damn shame what the world’s gotten to / For people like me and people like you / Wish I could just wake up and it not be true / But it is, oh, it is.On Wednesday, Mane reposted the song on his Instagram page and said he wanted Anthony to be the first country singer he signed to his label. Rich explained that he had the top album, Anthony had the No. 1 song and he wanted to produce him.
While Anthony’s lyrics hit conservative America’s talking points with fervor, the singer said on social media that he was nonpartisan before the song went viral.
“I sit pretty dead center down the aisle on politics and, always have,” he explained.
Now Anthony is grappling to process his instant fame.
“I’m sitting in such a weird place in my life right now,” he wrote on social media. “I never wanted to be a full-time musician, much less sit at the top of the iTunes charts. Draven from RadioWv and I filmed these tunes on my land with the hope that it may hit 300k views. I still don’t quite believe what has went on since we uploaded that. It’s just strange to me.”
He explained that music industry folks give him “blank stares” when he rejects their offers for millions of dollars and said he doesn’t want six tour buses, 15 tractor trailers and a jet. The red-headed Appalachian doesn’t want to play stadiums or to be in the spotlight.
“I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression,” he wrote. “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 bulls—. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place.”
He shared his background, explaining that he used the stage name Oliver Anthony as a nod to his late grandfather and 1930s Appalachia, where he was born and raised. He said he dropped out of high school in his late teens and later got his GED. Anthony worked many jobs before a skull fracture from a bad fall sidelined him, prompting him to return to Virginia.
“There’s nothing special about me,” he said. “I’m not a good musician. I’m not a very good person. I’ve spent the last five years struggling with mental health and using alcohol to drown it. I am sad to see the world in the state it’s in, with everyone fighting with each other. I have spent many nights feeling hopeless, that the greatest country on Earth is quickly fading away.”
Radio VW, reportedly owned by one of Anthony’s managers, Draven Riffe, posted “Rich Men North of Richmond” 12 days ago, and it has since accumulated 29.5 million views. Billboard reported that Riffe said he and Anthony only became acquainted within the last month. He co-launched Radio VW in 2018 to highlight unsigned Americana and country musicians from the Virginia/West Virginia area.
“I listened to Oliver’s music, and I just knew he was special,” Riffe told Billboard over the weekend.
Riffe and Anthony recorded the now-viral videos on his Virgina farm, where the singer lives in a small trailer. The manager said the men prayed before the session and explained the entire weekend was an “interesting experience.”
“We just felt like it was for a purpose that was way bigger than us, just two old regular dudes, you know what I mean?” Riffe said.
hit No. 1 on the iTunes Country chart by Aug. 11, overtaking Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town.” The song is a contender to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, which arrives Monday (Aug. 21). Other songs from Anthony, who has been recording music since 2021, also climbed up iTunes and Spotify’s charts, including “Aint Gotta Dollar” and “I’ve Got to Get Sober.”
While many view Anthony as their headlining truthteller, there are some that question his authenticity. Theories abound that Anthony’s arrival on the heels of Jason Aldean’s controversial “Try That In A Small Town” could be evidence that the music industry planted him and that the millions of streams that drove him to the top of the charts were purchased or internally generated.
He has accumulated nearly 400,000 Twitter/X followers since joining the site earlier this month and 839,000 followers on Instagram. Anthony has four songs in the Top 10 on the ITunes chart with “Rich Men North of Richmond” still at the top.
Riffe debunks the notion that Anthony’s meteoric rise has been anything but organic. He told Billboard there wasn’t much planning involved – the men just knew the song would resonate with listeners.
“I had a few friends who helped us push the song out there, like my friend Josh [Baer], who has a page called Country Central,” he told Billboard. “We all coordinated, and Oliver’s following as well; we just tried to push it out there all at once with our little group of friends, and that’s how it happened.”
Right-wing enthusiasts, including Joe Rogan, Kari Lake, Matt Walsh, and outspoken Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, support the song, while others on the left suggest it is propaganda.
The Washington Post quoted journalist Mike Rothschild, who covers conspiracy theories, as saying he doesn’t think the song and its lyrics are an accident.
“If you are plugged in enough to the conspiracy world to drop a reference to Epstein island into a song you’ve written, that’s not the only thing you’re consuming,” he said. “The people who do know… it’s the only thing they care about.”
Regardless, Anthony said on social media that he hated the way the internet has divided everyone.
“The Internet is a parasite, that infects the minds of humans and has their way with them,” he wrote. “Hours wasted, goals forgotten, loved ones sitting in houses with each other distracted all day by technology made by the hands of other poor souls in sweat shops in a foreign land. When is enough, enough? When are we going to fight for what is right again?”