What are sea shanties and why are they going viral on TikTok?

Another day, another viral TikTok phenomenon ... except this musical one dates back to the 19th century

Scottish singer Nathan Evans (centre) has been credited starting the musical sea shanty trend on TikTok, which sees talented TikTokers have layered their vocals and instrumental skills onto his viral performance of 'The Wellerman'. TikTok 
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Sea shanties have made a lively resurgence on TikTok of late, but if you're anything like me, until stumbling upon the phenomenon on social media, you had no idea what a 'sea shanty' actually was.

To answer concisely: it's a nautical folk song. They were primarily sung collectively by fishermen, whalers and sailors in the 19th century. The word "shanty" comes from the French "chanter", to sing.

Scottish singer Nathan Evans has been credited with starting the trend. Evans regularly posts acoustic country and folk videos and on Wednesday, December 23, he posted a video singing popular Scottish folk song, The Scotsman, with the tags #seashanty and #shanty".

The three-part performance went viral and then a few days later, on Sunday, December 27, he posted a clip singing The Wellerman, a 19th-century New Zealand sea shanty about Australian whaling company, Weller Brothers.

The following day, another singer, Luke Taylor, posted Evans's performance layered with his own baseline.

"I know no-one cares," he wrote, "but I love this song way too much to not add a bassline."

This is when the viral challenge really took off, with the performances being reposted thousands of times with new vocals and harmonies layered on top, as is commonly done on TikTok.

In the two weeks that have passed, shanties have since become Evans's TikTok bread and butter, it seems. He has now posted Bully in the Alley, Auld Lang Syne, Wayfaring Stranger and the much-requested Drunken Sailor.

Evans is a professional singer from Glasgow, Scotland. On Tuesday, January 12 - a little more than two weeks after his TikTok performance went viral - he announced he is now working on a five-track sea shanty EP, which will include a full-length version of The Wellerman. Evans says that the release will be available in "about a week".


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