The hit song that has divided the US

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Oliver Anthony’s Rich Men North of Richmond has become a huge viral hit, and the latest in a series of cultural flashpoints that reflect a deeply divided America, writes Caryn James.

The recently-released film Sound of Freedom has also become an unlikely US hit, with some critics taking its anti-child-trafficking story at its word, while others suggested it echoed the unfounded QAnon conspiracy theory about liberals condoning sex crimes against children. Alejandro Monteverde, the director of Sound of Freedom, has given interviews saying how heartbroken he is at the false QAnon label.

Boosting sales

Oliver Anthony’s Rich Men North of Richmond represents the image of the rural, put-upon white working-class hero, and the song reflects the narrative of grievance espoused by some right-wing politicians. His lyrics describe: “the obese milkin’ welfare” as well as saying: “I wish politicians would look out for miners/ And not just minors on an island somewhere”, which some have suggested is a reference to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. In another part of his introductory video, Anthony says the issue of child abuse made him decide to speak out, “when I started to see that becoming normalised.” Similarly, when the Aldean video caused a backlash, his wife, Brittany Aldean, defended him on Instagram, and asked, “How about instead of creating stories why not focus on the real ones, such as child trafficking?” The idea that child abuse has been ignored or “normalised” again echoes the common but unevidenced conspiratorial QAnon narrative, as some critics have pointed out.

The Try That in a Small Town video was pulled from Country Music Television, and the six seconds of Black Lives Matter images have since been removed, which Aldean’s record label said was due to copyright issues. But the controversy helped boost sales. After the backlash to the video, which dropped two months after the song itself, demand jumped by 999%, according to The Hollywood Reporter

And this latest controversy could change everything for Anthony, whose earlier, little-known songs are about drinking and working. In the personal video he says he has found sobriety and religion. If and when he addresses politics, we may know more. At the moment, his song could become just one more weapon in the culture wars.

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