Country singer Oliver Anthony joined Twitter in August 2023, and within a matter of days he'd already amassed more than 300,000 followers. As of the time of this writing he follows two people, musician Jamey Johnson and Elon Musk. What has propelled this person into near superstardom in such a short time? It's a little song of his called "Rich Men North of Richmond" and it's taking conservative social media by storm.
His meteoric rise could be attributed to the fact that this song has been promoted on huge platforms like anti-trans political pundit Matt Walsh and Joe Rogan, a podcaster allergic to fact-checking. Or something far more calculated could be happening. Many believe that Oliver is an industry plant whose success is being fostered by a carefully planned campaign. So who is Oliver Anthony? Let's get into it.
Who is Oliver Anthony? He came from nowhere.
According to Oliver's Wikipedia page — which was created Aug. 14, 2023, a mere three days after the release of his song — "Rich Men North of Richmond" was written by Christopher Anthony Lunsford. It's unclear if Oliver Anthony is a pen name but then again, a lot of things are confusing about this story.
The earliest song released on his YouTube channel is a cover of Tyler Childers's "Lady May" that Oliver dropped in August 2020. It has accumulated a modest 4,000 plus views. More recent comments started rolling in the day after Oliver started gaining traction but the last comment he replied to was from 2021.
Interestingly, a full-length version of "Rich Men North of Richmond" is not on Oliver's YouTube channel. The song was released in its entirety via the @radiowv YouTube channel which features other artists and was "created by two broke college students with a passion for soulful and real music." Suddenly out of nowhere, social media accounts were sharing this video simultaneously.
Oliver himself then released a nearly 10-minute video back on his channel titled, "It's a pleasure to meet you." In it he introduces himself four days before his song was released by @radiowv. "Lord willing, it's gonna get some traffic," he says. That's an oddly social media–centric way to frame the debut of a new song. He's never felt the need to introduce himself before. It's almost as if Oliver knows this will have a sizable reach.
Previously, most other songs on the @radiowv channel pull in views that hover around 15,000 to 20,000. Oliver's has over 9 million. That's an incredible leap for that channel and for an artist who was not very active on social media. His get-to-know-you video also paints Oliver as a libertarian who claims this song is about human trafficking.
What is astroturfing? Some folks think Oliver Anthony is an industry plant.
It's hard to believe that a singer from Farmville, Va., with a small social media footprint prior to August 2023 could suddenly be discovered by multiple accounts. Word on the virtual street is, Oliver is an industry plant who is benefitting from astroturfing. According to the Journal of Business Ethics, astroturfing is the "use of fake grassroots efforts that primarily focus on influencing public opinion and typically are funded by corporations and political entities to form opinions."
Here's where the astroturfing comes in. Jason Howerton is the CEO of REACH Digital. According to his LinkedIn, he has "helped grow media companies and political influencers grow their social media footprint exponentially." In a Twitter thread dated Aug. 10, 2023, Howerton shares that Oliver was apparently 30 days sober when "someone reached out and asked him to come record a song for his YouTube channel." That definitely sounds like Oliver didn't write "Rich Men North of Richmond."
Jason goes on to say that John Rich of Big and Rich offered to produce his record while he paid for it, noting, "I just wanted to help. This is how we're going to change culture. And the country." Changing the culture and the country by recording an album paid for by a man whose job it is to platform people sure sounds like astroturfing. Oliver might not be an industry plant but his success is not organic.
The last thing Jason Howerton does, the man whose job is social media, is encourage everyone to follow Oliver on his brand-new Twitter account. The only thing grassroots about Oliver Anthony is the grass and the roots he stood upon to record his music video.