Sea shanty singing is suddenly all the rage—and there's more than one reason why

As if we haven't had enough strange things happen this year (which we're only two weeks into, by the way), you may have noticed a sudden proliferation of sea shanty videos come through your social media feeds. While a welcome alternative to the footage of violent insurrection and rising pandemic death tolls in the U.S., the question is: Why sea shanties, and why now?

Though there's actually a wide range of sea shanty communities online, what brought it into the mainstream was a TikTok video from Scottish singer, Nathan Evans, pounding a drum and singing a well-known shanty, "The Wellerman."


Another singer, Luke Taylor, added some bass harmony to it, taking it up a significant notch.





Soon other sea shanty enthusiasts added harmony upon harmony, and the videos began being shared far and wide.

As of yesterday, a version of the song by a British folk band, The Longest Johns, was #2 on the U.S. Spotify viral chart and had reached #5 on the global chart the day before.

So why sea shanties and why now? There are some theories about that.

As this video from Going Off-Topic explains, a sea shanty was a work song sung by men who had to coordinate their movements while doing repetitive on a ship at sea. We've seen similar communal work singing or chanting among various groups, from the military to prison chain gangs. (But with sea shanties, you don't have the ominous underpinnings of war or the disturbing inhumanity of criminal justice to wade through in order to enjoy the rhythmic singing.)

Sea Shanty TikTok is TAKING OVER in 2021 www.youtube.com

What might be behind the newfound obsession with sea shanties is the current moment we find ourselves in the communal nature of the singing, adding voice upon voice—and especially doing so virtually through TikTok. Finding a way to create such harmonies together strikes right at heart of the human connection we're desperately missing right now.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we talked a lot about how we were "all in this together," but the months since have shown us that no, actually, we're not all in this together. Some of us are still denying we're in it at all, and that loss of a shared vision and purpose—which were always vital for us to avoid the disaster we're in, losing 4,000 Americans a day—is painful. These harmonies feel like a healing balm of sorts for that societal wound. They also fill a void we all feel in being distanced from our friends, family, and community.

As science journalist Leigh Cowart points out, "behavioral synchrony feels really, really good to humans and many of us have been social distancing for months and deprived of this."

For further proof of how much we need this proof of community in harmony, please try to watch this video of 500 people singing a shanty together and not get teared up:

If that's a little too much mushy emotion for you, the nature of these work songs may also reflect the feeling of the "seemingly endless, labor-filled test" of our resolve that pandemic living has forced us into, as Dan Sheehan points out. We're all heaving and hoeing just to make it through the day at this point.

They're also just...fun to sing. And catchy. The repetition of the chorus throughout makes it easy for anyone to join in and add their own unique voice to the mix. Watch this guy slowly get won over:

Who knows how long the sea shanty trend will last, or what creative lengths it will go to. After all, we've already hit electro-shanty territory, which I guarantee nobody saw coming a few months ago.

Maybe we'll end up with an entirely new genre of music when all is said and done. There are definitely worse things that could come out of a year of pandemic misery than a harmonious reminder of community and creativity.

Courtesy of Creative Commons
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One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

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Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

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Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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