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What's Behind this New Wave of Conservative Music?

On August 9th, 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 are 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 just that emotionally. The description describes him as “truly special and…(he) wants 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 the conservative circle on Twitter/ X with countless of them x’ing (tweeting) about how Anthony is the new saviour of country music, or music more generally, with only a handful of songs. A few days later the song went number 1 on the Billboard Charts.


Whether the song is actually the most listened to in the country or even internationally is debatable. As the charts have begun to take into consideration the 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, weighs different ways of buying music in different amounts- 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 is a guarantee that the artists song will do better in the charts than an artist whose sales come primarily from streaming. K-pop fans and Swifties have been doing it for a while and now conservative music listeners are getting in on it. However, whether or not the song is actually as big as the charts say, it has still gained copious amounts of attention and is indictive of trends happening within conservative media more generally. Within the certain circles there seems to the adoption of the belief that because conservatives are not being ‘represented’ in media but 'nonbinarypoclgbtbluehaircommiesnowflakes' are, meaning they feel a need to fight back. And a simple way of doing this is through endorsing media that can align with their views and aesthetics and allowing it to get picked by the mainstream.


The quality of the music, or media more generally, is an afterthought- Oliver Anthony having a 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, Tom MacDonald is unfortunate enough to be a white rapper who can’t rap and regurgitates random right-wing talking points over weak beats and  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) only for him to be dragged back into the fray for it with his vague platitudes of messing up cluttering up his songs and chants of 'Let's go Brandon' interrupting his shows. There was also the recent "hit" "film" 'Sound of Freedom' which was more engaging for the discourse around it rather than any actual merits the film had as it tried to legitimise QAnon conspiracy theories. Of course, it would be reductive to imply that people who have conservative views have never made popular music, or even that what they make is awful by default, but there is a different tinge to it with this new wave of conservative artists.


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. As a result of this, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people have begun to be more prominent within media and there are still large media outlets that are relatively liberal and have begun to centre their voices more. Whilst it may seem like small fry to your average person, to some conservatives it is an abomination and imperative for them to fight against it. The fact that most of these companies and businesses are merely doing it in order to secure a larger audience for a longer period of time is also an irrelevant fact- the mere allusion to progressivism is enough to generate backlash in these groups. Which inevitably causes conservatives to champion this form of music and art more generally- where quality is irrelevant as long as the politics play alongside their own lines. 


Oliver Anthony may not want to stay in this cycle for long. Following the first Republican presidential candidate debate, which featured his song, Anthony filmed a video in his truck and talked about how “it’s aggravating seeing conservative news try and identify with me, like I’m one of them…because it’s like, I wrote that song about those people.” Whether or not these comments, muttered in a southern drawl as rain batters down on the truck roof, are an expression of his genuine beliefs, or Anthony trying to separate himself from this groups in order to craft a more stable career in country, are not really that important. Conservatives actively choose to ignore the political messaging in songs as overt as Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ because of the references to the American flag so they will probably do the same with Anthony’s work. It will likely be added to the wider oeuvre of conservative art in the culture war that they are willing to engage it. Because, hey it doesn’t really matter who is in power if you have to listen to Ice Spice and Olivia Rodrigo and not ‘Truck Stop in a Ghost Town’ by Johnathon Clark, which is a track and artist I just made up but with the way these media cycles are going some version of that track will be a viral hit in about six months. 


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Erin Lewis is currently studying English Literature at the University of Warwick. They write

and edit for numerous University publications, both creative and journalistic, as well as

several external ones including As You Are magazine, The Express and Star and

Outsideleft. They are also a poet with their debut collection ‘Corporate’ coming out in June

2024.

                                                                                                                   

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