Oliver Anthony’s ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ Hits Hearts Because of One Single Word-Choice [Review]
Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” would have benefitted from a professional co-writer. That’s not someone who would water down his message, but someone who could tighten it up.
A brilliant opening lyric is delivered as the listener shuffles to Anthony's resonator guitar. At once, he’s shown us the urgency of the problem (work-life balance is off due to the company's unreasonable demands) and the speed of the fix — S-L-O-W.
This isn’t the new “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” because the ostensible problem he’s targeting isn’t as clear as it was when John Rich recorded his anthem in 2009.
It’s still a necessary message, and by using “I” in “And they don't think you know, but I know that you do,” Anthony positions himself as a Robin Hood ready to deliver. He sees you at a time the politicians you've chosen for representation seem so willingly blind. That's his master stroke, and it feels good to have our worldview recognized, until he gets weird.
I'll stop short of saying Anthony is fat-shaming, but he definitely doesn’t understand the realities of food deserts in rural towns (rural coal mining towns, even). One might have to drive 30 minutes to find fresh produce at a grocery store but pass three McDonald's along the way. Obesity and addiction are epidemics with no singular cause to blame.
Yet he does blame. During “Rich Men North of Richmond,” Anthony blames the obese for being that way and the government for suicide. At best, that's a naïve opinion that waters down his think piece, and if you look at the full scope of what he’s produced, you begin to see a man who is just beginning to give thought to presenting his ideas.
Both talking head videos he’s delivered go way beyond the music. This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people achieve success in one arena and begin to overestimate their knowledge or abilities in another area. Nobody is going walk away from "Rich Men" feeling lighter in the heart, but he’s trying to play the song off as one that may inspire some sort of positive change when he asks, "When Oliver Anthony is long gone and forgotten about, what can you do in your own life to maintain this energy, this positive, this unity that I see among people like I've never seen before?"
Dude, we just met!
The Farmville, Va., native sees a lack of mental health resources as a problem, and that's admirable, but he’d do better to speak with mental health professionals about their field before attacking people with issues that very well may stem from mental health.
Imagine this scenario: a child in a broken home is abused. He turns to food to make himself feel good, which brings on health issues as an adult. Now, he can’t keep gainful employment, so his family receives welfare. He never got the mental health help he needed after being abused, so he keeps buying those fudge rounds. Stories like that are far more common than stories of people milking the system to support their vices.
Conspiracy theories that describe Oliver Anthony as a conservative plant are still premature and a derivative of outrage around Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town. Rich and Aaron Lewis ("Am I the Only One") have proven anytime is a good time to rally a blue-collar crowd.
"Rich Men North of Richmond" does go right to a topic (child sex trafficking) some have tied to QAnon, but this seems more indicative of his daily reading than something nefarious put into place a group of puppet-masters. It’s strange that even before he dropped the song, he released a long video introducing himself and saying thank you. Step back to see that as coincidence, not covert operative.
“I’ve been sellin’ my soul, workin’ all day / Overtime hours for bulls--t pay,” is a great line, and the start of a great anthem. Someone who’s penned a song or two should have been brought in to help from there. John Rich has reportedly offered to help him, and even produce his next song. Anthony should accept that offer.