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If you’ve looked at a little-known thing called ‘the internet’ in the last few weeks – and we all know you have – you’ll have likely found yourself inexplicitly humming 18th century maritime work songs. ‘Why?’ you ask. Because 2021 is the year of the sea shanty! Duh!
As with everything these days, the story starts on TikTok. On December 27, Scottish singer Nathan Evans shared a black-and-white video of himself singing “Soon May the Wellerman Come” – a whaling song from the early 1800s. As reported by The New York Times, the track refers to a Australian whaling company owned by three brothers called the Wellers, and was likely sung by workers as they slaughtered whales.
Anyway, the track’s gone viral on TikTok, with countless people joining the original version’s harmony and sharing their own sea shanties. There’s even a Kermit the Frog version and electronic remixes.
“It’s crazy,” Evans told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “and has gone much further than I ever thought it would go. 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 1.1 million views. I thought there must have been a demand.”
“People were looking forward to more and they were commenting under every video after that saying, ‘Can you sing this one? Can you sing that one?’” Evans continued. “It was just requests from people for me to sing them.”
Explaining the story told in “Soon May the Wellerman Come”, Evans said: “It’s about people on a ship and they’re whaling and trying to catch this whale. And they’re saying that when they catch it, they will get it on board and sing about when the ‘tonguing is done’ – when it has been butchered for the meat. It’s not the most glorious of songs.”
The track has birthed a new community on TikTok, affectionately titled ShantyTok. There’s a video revealing what your favourite sea shanty says about you (“Drunken Sailor”? You’re basic), an Irish sea shanty diss track, and a prediction of how sea shanties will be incorporated into raves post-pandemic.
According to Google Trends, sea shanties are now being searched more than ever in the website’s history – which probably means we can expect the Lil Nas X remix any day soon. Watch some of the best sea shanty videos below.