If you live in an apartment complex or a college dorm, you might be wondering why it sounds like your neighbors are all screaming pirate songs at the top of their lungs during random hours. First of all, they’re called sea shanties not “pirate songs” — get it straight. Second, get ready to sing along. Because, as you’ve probably figured out by now, these joints are catchy.
Like most music trends these days, we have TikTok to blame for this one. Sea shanties are all the rage on TikTok right now, so much so that a sub-community at TikTok has been created around the phenomenon, known as ShantyTok. But why are sea shanties resonating with people so strongly at this particular moment?
Whose Fault Is This?
If you’re looking for someone to blame — or thank, depending on where you fall — then look no further than TikTok user Nathan Evans.
Hailing from Scotland, the aspiring musician and now TikTok star kicked off the trend just before Christmas after he uploaded an acapella rendition of “The Scotsman.” Accompanied solely by a steady rhythm provided by his pounding fist, Evans’ cover quickly amassed millions of views. Evans quickly followed up the surprise success with another acapella shanty performance, this time with the old New Zealand whaling tune, “Soon May The Wellerman Come” — the epicenter of ShantyTok.
Our Favorite ShantyToks
Currently, Evan’s performance of “The Wellerman” has been viewed more than seven million times, but that’s not what’s so cool about it. What’s far more impressive is the bizarre community that has formed around the video, which is being shared, remixed, chopped, screwed, and reinterpreted by thousands of TikTok users. Music producers are adding beats and synth leads, vocalists are adding their own touches, creating a choir of harmonies around Evans’ original performance, and musicians are adding their own talents into the mix.
In fact, the whole thing has developed much like in the olden days, when a bunch of bored sailors laboring on a ship would layer sounds however they could, over the course of days, weeks, or months. TikTok has popularized some seriously weird trends, but none have felt quite as communal as the world of ShantyTok.
Here are some of our favorites.
And it doesn’t stop there, the world of ShantyTok is deep. Some users have introduced new shanties to the repertoire, so don’t be too surprised when Drake finally drops that shanty single.
I Still Don’t Get It
At first, ShantyTok might strike you — like everything on TikTok — as cringey as hell. But after a certain level of exposure, the songs become ridiculously infectious. Speaking personally, I’ve spent far too much time today talking like an old sea captain and saying shit like “yarr” out loud. In real life. So what is it about sea shanties that seem to be resonating so strongly with people?
It’s really quite simple actually. According to the New York Times, who wrote a deep dive on the trend (which should tell you just how popular it’s becoming), sea shanties were originally sung by overworked sailors to create a sense of community and shared purpose on merchant marine vessels between the 1700s and 1800s. The shantyman would lead sailors in song as they worked as a way to distract them from the hardships (and boredom) of the seas.
“If it wasn’t for TikTok, I would be so bored and claustrophobic… But it can give you a sense of having a group. You can collaborate with other people and make friends easily,” Evans told the New York Times. We feel that.
Sounds a lot like quarantine, right? Aren’t we all like a captive crew, days blurring together as we toil away, looking for any way to pass the time? Sea shanties are providing millions of TikTok users with a sense of community they haven’t felt in some time, keeping us from slipping away into Willem Dafoe-in-The Lighthouse-levels of insanity.