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What Are Sea Shanties? Everything To Know About The Latest Catchy Trend That's Taking Over TikTok

Photo: TikTok
Sea shanty TikTok

There have definitely been some interesting TikTok trends that have happened in the last year. 

They usually have more to do with trendy new dance moves or viral songs, but this time TikTok has revived the centuries-old tradition of sea shanties.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines a sea shanty as a “sailors’ work song dating from the days of sailing ships, when manipulating heavy sails, by means of ropes, from positions on the deck constituted a large part of a sailor’s work.” 

"According to shanty lore, one 'shantyman' would be chosen based on his seamanship — not musical talent — to lead the crew in a call-and-response chorus as they work, resulting in vocals that were a little rough around the edges," one report reads.

What are TikTok sea shanties?

Read on for everything you need to know about the latest viral social media trend.

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It all started in late December by Nathan Evans, a 26-year-old singer from Scotland.

Evans posted a TikTok of himself performing a multi-part sea chantey titled “The Scotsman.”

But this is not his first sea shanty he's done — he's been covering them for months now, and has even posted a full-length version of the shanty “Leave Her Johnny” on YouTube.

"It is crazy and has gone much further than I ever thought it would go,” Evans told BBC Radio 4’s Today. “I did a sea shanty back in July 2020, just because someone had asked in a comment under one of my videos."

“So I uploaded that and it reached 1.1m views. I thought there must have been a demand," he explained. “People were looking forward to more and they were commenting underneath every video after that saying can you sing this one, can you sing that one – it was just requests from people for me to sing them.”

Evans also said that sea shanties are just flat-out fun and a good way to get everyone involved in singing.

“So I think its the fact you can get everyone involved, everyone can join in, you don’t need to necessarily be able to sing, the words are simple and it is just the beat and the voices," he said. "I think it’s a bit of everything that appeals to everyone.”

As a result, many TikTok users have found the shanties inescapable, and are even inquiring about making the songs available on all streaming platforms.

ShantyTok is taking over the social media app.

One user on Twitter wrote: “2021 is the year of the sea shanty.”

Another wrote, “Sea shanty TikTok is the gift that keeps on giving.”

TikTok’s duet function has served as a perfect way to deliver the call-and-response aspect of the shanty.

Users have begun to get more creative and intricate with their own renditions, even adding harmonies and instruments.

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With repetitive lyrics often referring to sailors’ duties and instrumentation usually consisting of the fiddle or violin, shanties are proving to be the perfect breeding ground for improvisation.

As VanArendonk notes, Black cultures appear to have played a crucial role in shaping shantying, even though the genre has since been thoroughly whitewashed.

Part of the joy, too, comes in the self-aware absurdity of the trend. Like the Ratatouille musical, it’s such a strange concept that it shreds through self-consciousness.

Out of all the TikTok trends we’ve seen happen this year, shantytok has to be, by far, the most wholesome. 

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Chicago. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.