WTFN: Sea Shanties

Welcome to the latest feature of The Indy Review: WTFN (or What’s Trending For Now), where we will take a look at some of the crazy trends happening in music and the music industry. One of the things that makes music constantly exciting is that there is always something new happening in it.

One thing I certainly didn’t have on my 2021 Bingo card was the revival of sea shanties! Per Wikipedia, a sea shanty is “a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany rhythmical labor on board large merchant sailing vessels.” So why the heck are they making a comeback? For the same reason Fleetwood Mac‘s “Dreams” hit the Top 10 last year and Lil Nas X managed to take over the world with a country rap song: TikTok.

TikTok user Nathan Evans recorded himself performing the classic New Zealand sea shanty “Wellerman”, and the track soon went viral. Other TikTok users started doing EDM remixes of the song, performing their own, and making comical videos in response. Evans even got himself a record deal! Another version of the song by The Longest Johns (who have been doing version of classic shanties and original tunes since 2013) topped the Spotify viral charts, and has amassed fourteen million streams so far, and a number of their other tracks have begun appearing on the viral chart.

What is it exactly that makes these songs appealing in 2021? Some of the tracks are simply great examples of stripped down, four part harmonies being applied accapella style (certain tracks have instrumentation, others do not). The folksy lyrics hearken back to a completely different world, making them comical in some instance, and yet this is often juxtaposed by the sincere and even sorrowful vocal performances.

Listening to some of these songs, such as The Longest Johns‘ “Ashes“, I was reminded of the sorrowful ballad Pippin sings in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. There’s an ancient beauty to these songs that would be hard to find in any modern pop songs. The big question is where does this trend go from here? TikTok fads often last about as long as a TikTok video, so one wonders if this revival can find life outside of the platform?

The genre doesn’t really fit on any radio formats (MAYBE triple AAA stations for the folkiest of the tracks), and Covid is currently killing clubs, meaning any EDM remixes will have difficulty finding a dance audience. There may be some sync deals for commercials that could prolong the lifespan of the trend, maybe helping it survive as long as the swing revival of the 90’s. Then again, for years people were saying that K-pop was going to explode in America. Even after Psy‘s “Gangnam Style” came and went, those believers stayed true, and lo and behold the genre exploded thanks to BTS and similar groups. The a real star can be found, someone who has the charisma and savvy to play the music industry game and the talent and songs to back it up, it’s entirely possible a modern take on sea shanties could have legs.

But is Evans that star? He may have nabbed a record deal and label promotion, but will they know what to do with him once he launches a full album? Let’s see if people are still enjoying their shanties six months from now and talk then. We wish him only the best of course – I’ll certainly blast his tune next time I’m at sea!

Hear Nathan Evans’ version of “Wellerman” here and hear Spotify’s Sea Shanties Playlist!

1 Comment

  1. From avid content creators who advise to stick on TikTok to make a career out of music, I don’t get it at all. I see the buzz though and I respect it. Nice read!


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