Back in 2022, Oliver Anthony started recording his songs because he thought he was going to die, and he didn’t want his music to die with him.
His anxiety and depression had gotten so bad, Anthony told me, that he was suffering from “brain fog, and I was getting chest pains.” It wasn’t any one thing so much as an accumulation of things over many years of working dead-end jobs and feeling increasingly hopeless.
“I was feeling like my body was starting to fall apart, and it got to a point where I was questioning how much longer I’d be able to be around and sing these songs and do this stuff, so I was like, ‘Well, let me just go ahead and start getting everything uploaded, so at least if, God forbid, I die of a heart attack in my thirties, there’s some legacy there,’ ” he said.
Anthony, whose real name is Chris Lunsford, had just wrapped up a set Wednesday at the North Street Press Club, in his hometown of Farmville, Virginia, and he was exhausted but elated as he devoured a burger and fries.
While he ate just a few miles from the camper he calls home and shares with his wife and two children, tens of millions of people around the country tuned in to Fox News to watch the first Republican debate. The first question of the evening featured a clip of Anthony performing “Rich Men North of Richmond.”
“Why is this song striking such a nerve in this country right now?”
That question—asked by Fox News host and debate moderator Martha MacCallum of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—is why I came to Virginia to meet Anthony.
It’s been just shy of three weeks since the 31-year-old singer-songwriter with the bushy, red beard and resonator guitar became a household name.
That was when a little-known YouTube channel called Radiowv posted a video of Anthony performing “Rich Men North of Richmond” in his yard, and he rocketed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, leapfrogging ahead of Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer,” Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night,” and Luke Combs’s cover of “Fast Car.”
Since then, the video has been viewed more than 44 million times. Several other Anthony songs, including “I Want to Go Home” and “Ain’t Got a Dollar,” have also reeled in tons of listens on U.S. iTunes.
But when I asked Anthony about being catapulted into the first major event in a presidential election cycle, he shrugged. “I’d like to stay out of politics,” he told me.
And the idea that he has been embraced by the political right baffles him. “If anything,” he said, his music is “more about the right than the left.”
He added: “I’m singing more about, like, a lot of the older, super conservative politicians that brought us into endless war through my entire childhood.”