Monday, January 18, 2021

So, Sea Shanty TikTok is a thing

One of my most-viewed posts in the history of this blog came last year, when I decided to post about a catchy tune I kept hearing my wife come across on the bite-sized video social media app TikTok.  Not that this blog maintains much of a focus, but that post was fairly off-topic pretty much no matter what you might consider my core subject matter.  I guess the post did what I intended it to, though, as it immediately jumped up to top-viewed status, and I could see that search traffic was bringing in people who were looking for the story of the song just like I was.  It has dropped back down below a few other posts in the past few months...although I'm not convinced that some of my rambling that generates a lot of hits (by my standards) isn't actually just a bot magnet for one reason or another.

At any rate, something interesting has happened on TikTok lately.  You may have seen that sea shanties have become popular.  Singing, singing along, remixing...folks are loving #ShantyTok.  Honestly, if you pay attention to pop culture news, there's a good chance you're already aware of this trend.  And if you're not, just search sea shanty tiktok, and you'll see that just about every news service, reputable and otherwise, has had something to say about the craze.

Why am I posting about it?  Not sure...I guess I just think it's cool.  Here's a sampler:

And a background video:

Note #1:  It has been pointed out HERE and probably elsewhere that at least the most popular of the TikTok shanties, the whaling song "Soon May the Wellerman Come", isn't actually a proper sea shanty by a strict definition of the term.  So, any shanty purists out there, we hear you.

Note #2:  Yes, it's a whaling song.  I've seen no indication that anyone involved lately is actually pro-whaling, though.  Whaling is pretty effed up.  Just thought it should be noted.  (I'll also note that I don't discount the argument that the banning of ecologically sound whaling, if it is possible, may very well indicate a cultural double standard imposed by the West.)  I shall go no further down this line of thought.

Note #3:  There are some definite gaming bits to be found in this!  According to this encyclopedia entry, the shantyman, or leader of the work song, was very influential in the success of the crew:

"A good shantyman was worth four extra hands on the rope."

Seems like a great way to work a bard into a nautical/piratical campaign, doesn't it?

And because why's one of literature's more famous whalers statted up for LightBox* gaming.  Call him...

Level 2 Sailor (check out David Baymiller's "OSR Pirate/Renaissance and Colonial Classes. Fighting Men" HERE!)

AC 9[10]    HD 2d6 (9 HP)
Saving throw: 15
Move 12 ft.

STR 11    DEX 12    CON 13    INT 12    WIS 15(+1)    CHA 10

Attacks:  By weapon (BHB +1, additional +1 melee or unarmed)

Sailing +1, Gambling +1, Swimming +2, Climb Walls 55%

Special:  Move silently and Backstab as level 2 Thief.

* As in conforming to the style of either Swords & Wizardry Light or White Box...I see little need to differentiate much more on the blog here...


  1. Brilliant article, Jonathan. I do love a good sea shanty. That sampler gave me shivers. I used to have a CD of them, but it appears to have disappeared now, probably sold in one of my collection "culls" for space.

    Well done for tying it all into gaming. I'd been thinking of something along these lines, but not only did you beat me to it, but did it far better than I could.

    Of course, whaling is horrendous, but these tunes have become their own art form, separate from their origins, so I don't think there's any problem with perpetuating them.

    1. Thank you Tim! I've undoubtedly been influenced by some of your "thoughts + gaming bits" posts over the past couple of months. I think it's actually giving me a rhythm on Monstrous Matters that I've never quite hit otherwise, maybe outside of daily-post challenges. :)

      I'd love to see your take on this, btw!

    2. I've added it to my scribbled list of "ideas to explore".

      I've been kicking the idea of a non-magical bard since last year, and the shantyman (a term I learned from you) would fit that template well, if only I could pin the rest of it.

    3. There's definitely a good space for that. (I recently thought about its value as I was statting up Joey Ramone as a bard...) I wonder if any nautical settings/sourcebooks have covered something like this...the shantyman does seem like a nice real-world example...!