In some sort of dystopian social media twilight zone, sea shanties exploded in popularity in early 2021. Toe-tapping hymns in the style of 19th century drunken sailors and rum-swilling pirates found new life in—you guessed it—TikTok, a platform ironically dominated by prepubescent teens.
After a Scottish musician named Nathan Evans shared his renditions of "The Scotsman" and "The Wellerman" on TikTok, the sea shanties went viral. Why? Who knows. This is TikTok, a Wild West of beautiful stupidity where people challenge each other to remove moles and insert pennies into live electrical sockets.
When Evans' sea shanties erupted on the platform, they inspired a new trend, which eventually mutated into its own native culture called ShantyTok. EDM ultimately found a home in ShantyTok thanks to a young dance music producer named ARGULES, who remixed "The Wellerman" into a blood-pumping electronic-pop hybrid and coined it an "electro-shanty."
All of this may sound ridiculous to someone unfamiliar with the strange and alluring world of TikTok, but what those people should be able to wrap their head around is the ecosystem's formidable influence in the music industry. Due to the video-sharing platform's sweeping music licenses and absurd number of daily active users, many major record labels leverage TikTok to capitalize on trends and break new artists. Such is the case with ARGULES, whose electro-shanty was signed and officially released by Universal Music Group under their renowned Polydor Records banner.
The breakthrough of ARGULES is an unconventional one, but one to marvel at nonetheless. "It’s gone way beyond anything I could have ever imagined," he told EDM.com. "As someone who has grown up listening to and creating dance music, it’s always been a dream of mine to release my own music and even more importantly to create my own sound. I didn’t expect that sound to involve 19th century sea shanties, but as this last year has proven, life can be very unpredictable at times."
ARGULES' EDM rendition of "The Wellerman" stitches the original version with a cover by fellow TikTok user Luke G. Taylor, who the beatmaker says has a "super unique voice" which "creates a special harmony" when combined with the singsong cadence of Evans.
When asked about when he realized his song went viral, ARGULES points to a video posted by Hank Green, a popular TikTok user with over 3.7 million followers on the app. The artist says that Green's video, in which he shuffled to the track, lit the fuse of "a whole movement."
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"[Green's video] was so simple yet it started a whole movement of people doing all sorts of cool—and sometimes slightly weird—things to the track," ARGULES said. "There are videos of people pretending to be clubbing at home whilst ironing, as well as a fair share of people using the track to bring out their inner pirate. Those ones definitely make me laugh."
"None of this has really sunk in yet," he continued. "When I first produced the remix, I thought that it might create some attention online, but 150 million views is far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. People keep telling me that they have seen the song on TV and heard the track on the radio. I’m excited to hear it on the radio myself."
Thanks to a serendipitous Instagram message from Polydor Records, it won't be long until that wish comes true. ARGULES says he was shocked when he heard from from a member of Polydor's A&R team, who told him that they wanted to release his "The Wellerman" rendition in an official capacity, with "big plans to grow the track around the world."
"It’s one of those 'pinch yourself' moments when one of the biggest record labels in the world wants to pick up your track and work with you," he exulted. "A couple of days later I had a great phone call with the A&R Manager at Polydor, who told me about some of the work they had already been doing to grow the sea shanty trend and how they felt that my remix was a big part of the story."
Now that ARGULES has gone from unheralded bedroom producer to Universal Music Group artist overnight, he plans to extend his musical endeavors far beyond ShantyTok. "Yes, definitely. I've received so many messages from people on TikTok sending me all sorts of videos and saying 'you need to remix this,'" he said when asked about his plans to remix other TikTok trends. "I've also come across some incredible songwriters and vocalists on TikTok that I would love to try my hand at remixing as well. It's no surprise when you see the number of artists that are having success from TikTok when you actually hear how good some of the songs on there are."
However, he's still smitten by the 'ol sea shanties, so fans can expect another electro-shanty down the line. "I could never rule out having a go at another sea shanty," ARGULES said. "From the comments I’ve seen online, there is a huge appetite for more electro-shanty tunes."
You can listen to ARGULES' official remix of "The Wellerman" on streaming platforms here.