What the Heck is a Sea Shanty, and Why are They Suddenly Going Viral on TikTok?

Another online craze to take your mind off of the pandemic and politics

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Photo by Sergey Semin on Unsplash

“Yo, ho ho, and a bottle of rum!” If you’ve been on TikTok this week, you may have noticed a lot of folks are performing sea shanties to pass the time, and they’re going extremely viral as a result. Why? Well, because they’re freaking fun. And they’re just good for a laugh, on top of showcasing certain folks’ many vocal talents.

Right about now, you might be asking yourself, what the heck is a sea shanty? Well, I’m glad you asked. Basically, think of pirates. Think of the songs they sing while swabbing the deck, or preparing to go an a raid. Think of the lonely fishermen out in their boats past dusk, passing a bottle of whisky or rum, and singing songs to pass the time. Remember that scene in JAWS? Where the group gets drunk and sings a song together that starts, “Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I wanna go to bed?” That’s a sea shanty!

These songs are a traditional part of life at sea and have a long history dating back to at least the 1500s. And now, thanks to Royal Mail worker Nathan Evans, and a lot of downtime created by the covid-19 pandemic, these traditional songs have regained a lot of popularity in recent months. Many of Nathan’s videos on TikTok have accumulated millions of views, and in them he is singing these traditional sea shanties from his culture’s past.

Twitter link

Due to the explosion of popularity, of course many others have chimed in trying to either join in on the fun, or to snag a bit of the online fame that Mr. Evans has carved out for himself on the TikTok platform. Just a search for popular sea shanties on Twitter turns up quite the list of viral videos that are accumulating views into the many thousands. That’s quite the viral trend you got going on there, and of course, people are eager to put their own spin on it.

Below, I’ll share a few of the best sea shanty takes I’ve seen while looking into this, and maybe give you an idea of what makes these videos so popular with the masses:

This TikTok wonders what the band Nickelback’s song “Rock Star” would sound like as a sea shanty —

This TikTok is a modern take on a sea shanty that asks the important question of how to survive in these modern times of isolation and home schooling and coping with loneliness through alcoholism. Very relatable —

This TikTok video uses an old union work song as a sea shanty, and it already has nearly 700,000 views —

Jimmy Fallon has even decided to get in on the fun with his own shanty about getting a driver’s license. He’s hilarious and always jumps onto the viral trends with his own brand of humor —

This is another traditional example, and it utilizes a violin for another added layer of folksiness that these traditional tunes often employ when performed in public forums —

Here’s another covid-19 shanty that already has close to half a million views —

And here, is a perfect intersection of pop culture and memes, according to this tweet, and this TikTok that performs “All Star” by Smash Mouth as a sea shanty —

As you can see, sea shanties are fun, they’re catchy as hell, and they get stuck in your head. No wonder they’ve been around for generations. Once you start going down the sea shanty wormhole of TikTok and Twitter, be aware, it’s hard to make your way back out without the urge to take your partner by the elbow and swinging them ‘round to the rum stores.

So, until we meet again, poor ye some liquor and shave your belly with a rusty razor, early in the mornin’!

Provocative truth teller, author of 14 poetry collections. Cat dad. Dog dad. Currently working from Portland, Oregon. Learn more at: Jaysizemore.com.

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