2021 has seen the unlikely success of the 19th century sea shanty ‘The Wellerman’ as a TikTok video gone viral has sent it soaring into the UK charts Top 40. Sailing in at no. 37, ‘The Wellerman’ original version is a heart-warming earworm known to many – though perhaps not by name for most. The previously niche world of the sea shanty singing community has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of attention received recently as a result, with social media users taking the time to create their own versions of the song, often with a 2021 coronavirus twist. 

Premiered on July 16th July 2020, the video that has sent the shanty into the charts is a version by a UK group The Longest Johns from the seaside city of Bristol. Now with nearly a quarter of a million views on YouTube the video has become unprecedentedly popular and heard around the world. The craze was then picked up on TikTok where users would supplement the shanty’s old-time lyrics for more modern versions. 

With more people around the world online this past year due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions, it’s unsurprising the internet has reached such depths of musical history. What’s more, the song’s bleak but hopeful lyrics are almost a sign of the times as of a group of sailors awaiting sweet gifts from said ‘Wellerman’, free themselves from a trapping with a whale. It’s easy to imagine people hoping to be free soon of the coronavirus’ grip and enjoying life’s more pleasurable delights again instead. 

The original shanty is thought to date back to the early 1830s and have originated in Australia or New Zealand. The short song style remains popular to this day, with yearly festivals such as the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival in the UK, which will also take place online this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.