TikTok has become incredibly effective at determining what the next big trends in music and pop culture are, but the latest craze sea shanty craze is not one that anybody saw coming. 

The viral video app has been flooded with clips of talented users singing old sailor’s tunes and amassing millions of views and likes, specifically chains of videos that utilize TikTok’s duet feature and combine the clips of numerous different people singing in various vocal ranges to create one unified, glorious-sounding sea shanty.

TikTok’s Nathan Evans Popularizes Sea Shanties

Scottish singer and TikTok user Nathan Evans has been at the center of the trend, uploading wildly popular videos of him performing songs such as “Drunken Sailor” and “The Wellerman,” the latter of which serves as the starting point for a now Internet-famous chain of videos duetting Evans and adding layers to the song.

As major TikTok trends tend to do, the sea shanty craze has quickly outgrown just the videos of people singing the songs and become a social media phenomenon. People are playing sea shanties to get viral reactions out of others, remixing them into 21st century club hits, and compiling Spotify playlists dedicated to sea shanties that garner tens of thousands of listeners.

So, what gives? On an app full of young people that try to showcase how cool they are for their music taste, fashion sense, favorite hobbies, and so forth, sea shanties are a decidedly uncool thing to be all the rage right now.

The songs are simple, centuries old, often sung by a cacophony of burly voices. They concern outdated topics like rough waters and whaling, and are nothing like any popular music today. It could be that Gen Z humor is notoriously odd and difficult to understand and that this makes the old maritime songs funny by default, but it probably runs deeper than that.

Virtual Bonding on TikTok Through Sea Shanties 

If the popularity of sea shanties was just a fun joke, the videos on TikTok would not be made with such care and met with such genuine praise. Moreover, the playlists created to assemble the genre in easy-to-access places likely wouldn’t have as many likes and listens as they do. Although the fun of hopping on a trend is definitely a part of the craze, the rise of sea shanties is no joke. It is a genuine love of the music.

Was this universal love of sea shanties just sitting dormant in all of us until TikTok singers like Nathan Evans brought it bubbling to the surface? That could be the case, or it could be that sea shanties are just the perfect kind of song for people to bond over these days. Written with simple, easy-to-memorize rhymes and meant to be bellowed out by large groups of people, sea shanties are like the best form of quarantine catharsis imaginable.

While we can’t meet up and goof around with friends or go to concerts just yet, we can get together on TikTok to collectively sing sea shanties with all the camaraderie of a drunken pirate crew. We can send the videos to our friends and family and laugh about the absurd new music trend taking social media by storm, and we can take comfort in the hearty nature of the music that is unexpectedly helping us weather the rough seas of pandemic life.

It may be impossible to tell how long this trend will stay in the public eye and continue to blow up on TikTok, but the pure wonder of everybody adopting the music and liking it enough to the point of mainstream popularity will no doubt immortalize 2021 as the year of the sea shanty.