The Sea Shanty has made a most unexpected comeback thanks to the magic of TikTok.
TikTok seems to have an unprecedented ability to draw attention to the foreign, the dark, and the forgotten. Even sea shanties can come back into fashion at some point.
In the past few weeks, the video sharing platform has managed to catapult these charmingly melancholy songs into the mainstream. Many TikTok users have hummed the tune of “Wellerman,” a New Zealand shanty song from the 19th century.
TikToker / Scottish singer Nathan Evans seems to be responsible for the trend with his interpretation of “The Scotsman”. The cheeky lyrics and the nostalgic sound of the song were very popular on the platform. Evans soon followed him with “Wellerman”; The shanty conjures up images of grim-faced sailors scrubbing the decks of their ship waiting for goodies to be delivered to ease their distress.
In the song, the title “Wellerman” refers to a supply ship with intoxicating content that the seafarers of a whaling ship look forward to. The “tongue” refers to the slaughter of the whale (after it has been caught).
“Wellerman” proved oddly catchy and soon sparked a trend known as ShantyTok, as other users gave the shanty their voice through its duet function. Eventually this turned into an entire chorus, which added to the evocative, nostalgic nature of the song.
Other users inserted musical instruments, played with digital tools with their singing, and even mixed Sea Shanties into EDM songs to seamlessly blend the old with the new.
These threads of connected tiktoks, endlessly optimizing the song through disorganized creative collaboration, ironically mirror the way in which sea shanties and folk songs would traditionally arise.
While sailors once sang these shanties during long, strenuous physical labor, today’s TikTok users are likely stuck at home, bored during the pandemic, and finding new ways to express themselves.
The trend shows the positive side of TikTok; While every other social media platform seems to be turning into a stagnant space defined by cyclical culture wars and increasingly insignificant arguments, TikTok seems to have sparked an incredible amount of creative collaboration.
Tiktoker’s duet with one another, adding instrumental and vocals to each other’s songs, is exactly how the Ratatouille musical was composed, which emerged organically from the platform.
I don’t know how much longer Sea Shanties will be around, but it’s certainly one of the more positive trends emerging in an otherwise troubling month.