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A virtually unknown conservative singer just rocketed to the top of the charts. Here’s why it won’t be the last time

Analysis by Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — The right-wing media universe is maturing — and finding great success — beyond typical news commentary.

The latest example: Oliver Anthony Music’s smash hit “Rich Men North of Richmond.” The anti-Washington anthem, a screed against politicians depicted as depraved and out of touch bureaucrats who want “total control” over the lives of the working class, debuted Monday at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart.

That’s quite a feat, considering singer Christopher Anthony Lunsford was virtually unknown just weeks ago. It’s an even more miraculous achievement given that Lunsford faced stiff competition on the charts from Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen, Olivia Rodrigo, Miley Cyrus, and other A-list performers. Billboard said that its the first time an artist has ever launched “atop the list with no prior chart history in any form.”

But it’s representative of a growing trend in which performers like Lunsford are tapping into an environment in which millions of Americans, primed to loathe mainstream pop culture and media, are willing to open their pocket books to champion their politics. It’s also illustrative of the power amassed by right-wing media forces, taking unknown quantities and churning them out into overnight blockbuster hits, a weaponized cudgel against perceived enemies in mainstream institutions.

Already this summer, there have been two other notable examples. The “Sound of Freedom,” a crowdfunded film embraced by Donald Trump and outlets such as Fox News about the horrors of child sex trafficking, managed to best “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One” at the domestic box office, despite the latter being a highly anticipated Tom Cruise action flick that exploded into theaters with enormous hype. And, while he is a well known country singer, Jason Aldean’s widely criticized “Try That In a Small Town” was not much of a commercial success until it was boosted by right-wing media to the top of the Billboard charts.

As conservatives increasingly see legacy media companies and performers as not only disagreeable, but outright evil, it makes sense that they would look toward outsiders to fill their entertainment needs. Why watch a Hollywood elitist like Cruise perform when a Trump-approved, Fox News-boosted movie is also playing at the local theater?

Prominent right-wing media companies have in recent years started to create content and products designed to tailor fit their audience’s political and social views, exploiting the very hole in the market they created for additional profit. Fox News, The Daily Wire, and TheBlaze have all made pushes in this direction. These outlets program their audiences to abhor companies like Disney and then show up with paid content designed to replace the Magic Kingdom in their households.

In an interview with Fox News that aired Monday, Lunsford himself blasted “corporate media and education” for “making everyone identify each other’s differences and not as similarities.”

Ultimately, if successful, the strategy could spell the end of a shared popular culture, similar to how the advent of right-wing talk-radio and Fox News ultimately spelled the end of a shared understanding of current events.

It won’t happen overnight, of course. It took decades for Fox News and the rest of the right-wing machine to undermine the traditional news media and deceive their audiences into actually thinking that journalists report “fake news.” But, with enough repetition over time, it worked. And the trend now suggests the winds are blowing in a similar direction in pop culture.

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