Why Sea Shanties Have Become So Popular



Out of all the songs I could have listened to on repeat during the break, I wasn’t really expecting it to be a sea shanty from the 19th century. But that didn’t stop me from listening to Wellerman about 20 times in a row as I danced around the kitchen, which eventually led to me  delving into more shanties, like Drunken Sailor and Randy Dandy-O. I’ve always had a strange taste in music so for me this seemed like a natural progression, but what surprised me was how many other people seemed to discover them at about the same time, and how popular they became as a result. 


Sea Shanties themselves have obviously been around for centuries, but their popularity outside of the sea faring world picked up recently, and a large part of that resurgence can be attributed to Tik Tok. Most videos started with a lone voice, the lyrics and some basic rhythm, and people started adding more and more vocal parts and instrumentals until most of the basic videos turned into a gorgeous cacophony of seafarer’s music. Of course, making music together is nothing new for Tik Tok or for humanity in general. Creativity and the ability to find enjoyment from it is one of our greatest tools, but I’ve found that it’s often used as a coping mechanism for when things get especially tedious. And in my opinion, the sea shanties are the epitome of that concept.


Sea shanties were originally sung during long trips at sea, usually led by one person and with simple melodies and harmonies so that everyone could participate while hauling ropes or cleaning up the deck. They were designed to make the long journey more enjoyable even when the ocean looked bleak and endless. So, unsurprisingly, they’ve become appropriate for this age as well. Everyone is just trudging on day after day and completing the tasks we need to, and we’re in desperate need of keeping ourselves entertained and connected. As my good friend Damien said when I asked him about why he thought sea shanties had made such a comeback, “I have a theory that it's because sea shanties are communal songs that don't rely on skill so it’s our natural need to create art together coming out through isolation. We can’t be together to sing so we'll use whatever we have.” And I think he’s correct; we’re all traveling through this ocean together and sometimes it feels choppy and the waves toss us until we’re begging for mercy, for an end to the journey. And in those moments, one of the only things we can do is sing. And singing together lets us know we’re not alone, even on the vast ocean. So do yourself a favor and listen to a good old sea shanty, and hope that the Wellerman comes with the tea and rum soon.