Why TikTookay (and Everyone Else) Is Singing Sea Chanteys

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The Monitor is a weekly column dedicated to all the pieces taking place within the WIRED world of tradition, from motion pictures to memes, TV to Twitter.

Earlier this week, it appeared inevitable that this column would have one thing to do with the second impeachment of President Trump. In every week when Republicans had been likening the impeachment of the president to a “canceling” and saying that Twitter booting Trump was akin to censorship, it was tempting to weigh in. (If free speech is being stifled, how is it potential that it’s all I hear about on each main media outlet on the earth? How?) But I digressed. Why? Sea chanteys.

To get everybody up to the mark, sea chanteys are the smiling girl within the Distracted Boyfriend meme—they pull your consideration away it doesn’t matter what must be occupying your time. Originating on service provider marine ships within the 18th century, the songs—meant to assist sailors by way of their duties—began taking off on TikTookay after a 26-year-old Scottish postman named Nathan Evans posted a video of himself singing a tune referred to as “Soon May the Wellerman Come” (typically simply titled “Wellerman”) within the final week of 2020. It’s been duetted hundreds of instances since and has develop into an internet obsession. (If you haven’t but scrolled r/seashanties you actually should.)

Why? Why, in the midst of a political disaster within the US and a world pandemic, has everybody turned to songs that sound like what the Decemberists had been attempting to be? The conclusion most folk have come to is that sea chanteys are a respite. That at a time when individuals must be far aside, becoming a member of collectively in tune—even over TikTookay—appears like a second of togetherness, or socially distant karaoke. (God, I miss karaoke.) “They are unifying, survivalist songs, designed to transform a huge group of people into one collective body,” Kathryn VanArendonk wrote for Vulture, “all working together to keep the ship afloat.” Similarly, as Amanda Petrusich famous in The New Yorker, “it seems possible that after nearly a year of solitude and collective self-banishment, and of crushing restrictions on travel and adventure, the chantey might be providing a brief glimpse into a different, more exciting way of life, a world of sea air and pirates and grog, of many people singing in unison, of being free to boldly take off for what Melville called the ‘true places,’ the uncorrupted vistas that can’t be located on any map.” (As to the spelling discrepancies between “shanty” and “chantey” your guess is nearly as good as mine.)

These issues are undoubtedly true. After almost a yr of quarantines and worry, having one thing easy you could sing alongside to even when you’re midway tone-deaf is welcome. The unironic embrace of one thing that feels previous and ethereal additionally suits proper in with the spirit of TikTookay. But on the identical time, collective tradition consumption has been one of many hallmarks of the pandemic, from a collective obsession with Tiger King to “WAP.” Not to say, avid gamers had been singing chanteys whereas taking part in Sea of Thieves lengthy earlier than the pandemic hit. Yes, a few of this reputation got here courtesy of the Longest Johns, the a cappella folks band that launched a model of “Wellerman” in 2018, however nonetheless.

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