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Oliver Anthony’s ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ Is the Number One Song in the Country

Written by on August 23, 2023

A week ago the Virginia singer was an unknown — now he and his populist anthem are ahead of artists like Taylor Swift, Gunna, and Morgan Wallen on the Hot 100.

IN WHAT CAN only be described as one of the most unexpected shakeups in recent chart history, Oliver Anthony’s “Rich Men North of Richmond” has beaten out superstars including Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Olivia Rodrigo, and Gunna for the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 songs chart. The achievement also earns Anthony the distinction of being the only artist to ever make their first entry in the Hot 100 at Number One, the publication announced on Monday.

But nothing about his ascent to the top of the charts is conventional. Anthony was unknown before the song took off, and “Rich Men North of Richmond” blew up practically overnight after several prominent conservative influencers started sharing the song online just over a week ago. While streaming is the most common method of listening to music as traditional sales and digital downloads continue to wane, Anthony’s success can most directly be traced to the more than 147,000 units sold through digital purchases according to data provider Luminate. The song has stuck firmly atop the iTunes chart since last Friday.

Still, while the populist anthem got a major boost from its particularly high sales, “Rich Men” is a streaming success too. Per Luminate, the song saw 17.4 million streams last week (nearly equal to Swift’s “Cruel Summer” and Rodrigo’s “Bad Idea Right?”), and it took the top spot on Apple Music and Spotify’s U.S. charts multiple times last week as well.

Coming in at two this week was “Fast Car” by Combs, while Wallen’s “Last Night” took three, Swift’s “Cruel Summer” came in at four, and “Calm Down” by Rema and Selena Gomez rounded out the top five.

Anthony’s sudden surge coupled with the political backing caused a stir online as skeptics questioned if its success was organic or the result of “astroturfing.” Anthony addressed his newfound audience at length last week on Facebook, confirming that his real name is Christopher Anthony Lunsford, and that Oliver Anthony was his grandfather’s name. He wrote that he’s turned down $8 million offers on his music and that he lives out of a $750 camper he bought on Craigslist, parked on a plot of land he bought in 2019 for which he still owes $60,000.

“I wrote the music I wrote because I was suffering with mental health and depression,” Anthony 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 bullshit. Just some idiot and his guitar. The style of music that we should have never gotten away from in the first place.”

Anthony, who performed a concert this weekend on a golf course in North Carolina, joins Jason Aldean in topping the charts after gaining support from American conservatives for their music. In Aldean’s case, sales on “Try That in a Small Town” skyrocketed last month after CMT pulled the song’s music video, which depicted protests as violent and lawless and was filmed at a courthouse in Tennessee where a 1927 lynching occurred.

The track marks yet another chart victory for country music, which is enjoying a booming year thanks mostly to a surge in streaming popularity. Aside from “Small Town” and “Rich Men,” whose political connections and sales helped drive them to the top of the charts, Wallen’s “Last Night” has spent 16 non-consecutive weeks atop the Hot 100 because of major streaming numbers. Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” has spent much of the summer fighting for a Number One spot, amassing more than 340 million streams to date.

“Rich Men North of Richmond” joins “Try That in a Small Town” and Jung Kook and Latto’s “Seven” in topping the charts from strong digital sales. While pushing traditional sales help move songs up the charts if the goal is a Number One distinction, it doesn’t always lead to sustained periods in the top slot. Both “Small Town” and “Seven” dropped out of the Top Five by the next week. (“Seven” dropped to nine the week after its Number One peak, while “Small Town” plummeted to 21).

In what now becomes one of the biggest questions for the upcoming songs charts, will Anthony see a similar dip — or could he ride the hot streak in the weeks ahead?

 

Some information for this story came from Rolling Stone

 


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