Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Although it sounds bizarre, creative spirits with cabin fever are taking up the call and belting out sea shanties as a way to while away the time during the winter months.
Over the last few months, there has been a surge in those learning the ancient art of staving off loneliness at sea: singing shanties.
The viral trend started when a 26-year-old Scottish native videotaped himself singing a classic shanty in his bedroom and then posted it to TikTok. Other TikTok fans soon added their voices and instruments to the mix. After over a million views, the shanty craze has inspired its own moniker: ShantyTok.
The sea shanty’s popularity with Millennials and Zoomers during the pandemic isn’t hard to understand. While we remain separated from each other, it’s natural that we would crave meaningful interactions with our peers. Since shanties require a group effort, it’s a natural fit.
Dating back to at least the 1400s, shanties were originally work songs that consisted of an easy to memorize chorus and lyrics that could be ad-libbed. Sailors of yore sang to pass the time and to coordinate their efforts in hoisting sails and anchors or manning the bilge pumps. Singing shanties on board a tall ship also helped to defuse tension and kept the sailors sane amid the isolation at sea and the close quarters onboard.
Whether one had a great voice was inconsequential, the idea was for everyone to join in and sing along… and occasionally throw in the odd insult, bawdy allusion, or risqué comment.
So if you wanted to try something new this year, just try singing along with your favorite TikTok pirate! Some examples are listed here.
The Wellerman Shanty that began the ShantyTok craze
A funny in-car rendition of the Wellerman
The traditional Spanish Ladies, sung by the Longest Johns
A discussion of sea shanties, hosted by NPR's Scott Simon
What’s your favorite shanty? Let us know what videos we should include!