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What’s behind this new wave of conservative music?

On August 9, 2023, a YouTube channel called radiowv posted a song called ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ by Oliver Anthony. The video itself is in the vein of most ‘rustic’ country singer performances – a studio microphone and an unplugged guitar that you can somehow hear perfectly, surrounded by large dogs, camping equipment, and woodland. Anthony spends most of the video with his eyes screwed shut or glancing down at the ground because what he is saying is emotional. The description describes him as “truly special and…[wanting] to give hope to the working class and your average hard-working young man who may have lost hope in the grind of trying to get by.” Soon after, it gets picked up by conservative users on X with countless people posting about how Anthony is the new saviour of country music, or music more generally, despite having only released a handful of songs. A few days later, ‘Rich Men North of Richmond’ went number 1 on the Billboard Charts. 

And a simple way of doing this is through endorsing media that aligns with their views

Whether the song is actually the most listened to in the US, is debatable. As the charts have begun to consider different forms of music consumption, listeners and artists alike have tried to skew the numbers in their favour, often by buying songs en masse. Billboard, alongside other music charts, gives different weight to different ways of listening to music – 1,250 streams on Spotify is equivalent to 1,500 views on YouTube, which is equivalent to one album sale. Buying physical media in substantial amounts guarantees that the artist’s song will do better in the charts than an artist whose sales come primarily from streaming. K-pop fans and Swifties (Taylor Swift’s fans) have been doing it for a while, and now conservative music listeners are too. However, whether or not the song is as big as the charts say, it has still gained copious attention. It is also indicative of trends happening within conservative media more generally. Within certain circles, there seems to be the adoption of the belief that because conservatives are not being ‘represented’ in media, they feel a need to fight back. And a simple way of doing this is through endorsing media that aligns with their views and aesthetics and allowing it to get picked up by the mainstream. 

Similarly, Morgan Wallen’s political identity seems to be something he is desperately trying to escape

The quality of the music, or media more generally, is an afterthought – Oliver Anthony’s rich, emotive voice and decent production makes him a far better talent than some of his contemporaries. Jason Aldean is coarse and warbling with too on-the-nose lyrics, while Tom MacDonald’s weak rapping regurgitates right-wing talking points. Similarly, Morgan Wallen’s political identity seems to be something he is desperately trying to escape (in 2021 he was filmed drunkenly shouting the N-word with some friends). However, he was dragged back into the fray for it with his vague apologies cluttering up his songs and chants of “Let’s go Brandon” – a euphemism for “F*** Joe Biden” interrupting his shows.  

Despite what they may believe, conservatives do have considerable amounts of power. Their ideology, or different factions of it, run many governments, businesses, and even some media corporations. However, they do not control all social aspects of society. Over time, as people have become more progressive, they have wanted to engage with art that represents them. BIPOC and LGBT+ people have begun to be more prominent within media and there are still some large media outlets that are relatively liberal. Whilst it may seem like small fry to your average person, some conservatives feel it is imperative to fight against it. The fact that most of these companies and businesses are merely doing it to secure a larger audience for a longer period of time is also an irrelevant fact – the mere allusion to progressivism is enough. This inevitably causes them to champion this form of music and art more generally – where quality is irrelevant as long as the politics play alongside their own lines.  


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