Hey there, sailor, why so blue? Life got you down? The unending stream of panic-inducing headlines got you fearing for the future? The inability to shut off the conveyor belt of time stirring your anxieties? Well, never fear. Come rest your cares in SeaShantyTok, the incredibly soothing TikTok subgenre resurrecting ancient mariner ballads for a new generation that is absolutely head over heels for them.
It all started with this man, Nathan Evans, a young Scottish TikToker whose rendition of a 19th century song called “The Wellerman” went viral thanks to his stirring baritone and the lasting power of the longing that comes of being a wandering seafarer.
Evans started the craze but it didn’t end there. “SeaShantyTok” became a Thing, with more and more Tokers putting their own spin on classic sailor ballads. The new thing is to take someone else’s rendition of “The Wellerman” and add your own harmonization. Just check out the rabbit hole below, which continues to add layer upon layer of cable knit goodness to Evans’ original vocals until you’ve got a veritable schooner-ful of glittery-eyed buccaneers, all singing wistfully about an era to come, each more viral than the last.
I found sea chanty tiktok and I'm gonna call it a good omen for 2021 pic.twitter.com/OLo86ntcLJ
— Elizabeth Kingston (@EKingstonBooks) January 1, 2021
— Matthew Kaczynski (@othehorrors) January 10, 2021
— Myriah Brynn Lewis (@MyriahBrynn) January 9, 2021
— Mia Asano (@miaasanomusic) January 5, 2021
— mylifeforfun_ (@BloodyDeath11) January 11, 2021
The sea shanty started as an easy way for sailors to keep tempo while working during the days and nights at sea. The songs are intentionally simple so that anyone on the ship could join in, which makes it pretty easy for online collaboration as well. In this particular song, a Wellerman is a supply ship that will bring goods to a group of long-suffering whalers. “Tongueing” just means butchering the whale for meat after they catch it.
Not everyone needs to start with Evans’ original draft on ShantyTok. Check out this version below, in which a Toker named Promise goes from shanty skeptic to shanty die-hard, illustrating the same level of enthusiasm you’re probably starting to feel.
2021 is the year of the sea shanty pic.twitter.com/ohOAGvkbtC
— Tim – Poster of Hugo Pics (@Beertheist) January 11, 2021
The appeal to sea shanties comes from their plaintive simplicity, a simple wholesomeness with just the slightest undercurrent of melancholy that feels so appropriate for our era. Sure, the temptation is just to hop on a sturdy brig and sail away from it all, but we can’t really do that. What we can do is sing like we already have.