Not just for drunken sailors: how sea shanties took over TikTok | Folk music | The Guardian

Name: Sea shanties.

Age: At least 600 years old.

Appearance: Just about the hippest thing on TikTok right now.

TikTok? The app where people dance? More or less, yes, although it’s worth pointing out that recently TikTok users collaboratively designed, built and patented a cutting-edge pill bottle specifically to improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s disease. But, yes, also dancing. And now sea shanties.

I also do not know what a sea shanty is. It’s a type of collective folk song typically performed by merchant sailors, fishermen or whalers as they engaged in shipboard labour. Shanty is thought to be derived from the French verb “chanter”, which means to sing.

But that all sounds very old. Why is it big on TikTok? Well, there are two competing theories. The first is that the collaborative nature of TikTok lends itself to things like massed singing, so if someone uploads a video of themselves performing a sea shanty, it’s only natural that other users will want to hop aboard and harmonise.

What’s the other theory? That lockdown has broken us to such an extent that we’re forced to sing sea shanties on the internet for fun. They both hold up.

How did this even start? It seems Nathan Evans, a Scottish singer, is to blame. At the end of December, he uploaded a video of himself singing a tune called The Scotsman. When that took off, he uploaded another of The Wellerman, a 19th-century New Zealand sea shanty about waiting for supplies of tea, sugar and rum sent by the Australian whaling company, Weller Brothers.

And then? Next day, a user named Luke the Voice added a bass harmony to the video, and then all bets were off, frankly.

More harmonies? That’s putting it mildly. By last week, a succession of nicely bearded boys in lovely jumpers had added their voices to the song, and the virality began. Now the ranks have swollen to such an extent that The Wellerman now has several singers and two different violin tracks and the musical ranks are more gender balanced.

Where is this going to end? It’s already starting to sound like the Game of Thrones theme tune, so who knows? A sax solo?

I must say, this is all rather wholesome and charming. Right. Meanwhile, Twitter remains a flaming hellpit of Nazis. Do you think we might all be on the wrong social media platform?

Do say: “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?”

Don’t say: “Force him to record a meticulously harmonised ancient song on an app to highlight the emptiness of his life.”