The story behind Tones And I, the Australian busker topping the charts with ‘Dance Monkey’

The story behind the surprise chart-topping teen

Every now and then a song comes out of nowhere and takes over the charts, streaming playlists, radio waves, and your ear canals. ‘Dance Monkey’, the furiously catchy song that’s currently at the top of the Official UK Singles Chart (where it has been for 10 weeks), is the latest track to do just that, propelling its previously unknown creator to international stardom. But who is Tones And I, the teenager behind the tune?

Tones And I got their big break on the streets of Byron Bay

These days it’s incredibly common for unknown musician to get their big break online, going viral on YouTube (Carly Rae Jepsen), Vine (Shawn Mendes), or TikTok (Lil Nas X). The reverse was true for Tones And I, who first started uploading songs to YouTube when she was 16 but found success when she began busking on the streets of Byron Bay in 2017.

While performing there, the 19-year-old musician (whose real name is Toni Watson) met music lawyer Jackson Walkden-Brown, who introduced her to management company Lemon Tree Music, kicking off her journey to becoming a chart-topping artist.

‘Dance Monkey’ is about her experience of busking

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Watson wrote ‘Dance Monkey’ while busking in Byron Bay, intending it to be a fun song for her fellow hostel-dwellers to dance to. Deeper than that, the lyrics of the springy electro-pop smash tackled the “bad side of busking” – an activity that, despite its cons, the musician had vowed to herself to do until she was 50.

“I was getting a little bit bullied by guys who thought I was taking their customers, and it got to the point where I was anxious every time I set up my keyboard,” the star told The Times of the inspiration behind the track. “Drunk people came past and yelled profanities at me. The negative was outweighing the positive, but I didn’t want to stop just because people were being horrible.”

But the song’s success is an online story

The track gained its first bit of success in Australia thanks to support from radio stations like Triple J. It went viral around the world thanks to finding a home on multiple playlists on Spotify, where the song has been streamed nearly 650 million times at the time of writing. According to The Music Network, Tones And I was also the “most clicked” new artist on the platform.

The video for ‘Dance Monkey’, which has over 330 million views on YouTube, has also contributed to the song’s success. In it, Watson subverts other music videos that celebrate partying by playing an old man cruising in a convertible and causing chaos on a golf course with crew of grey-haired men drinking from red cups.

It’s broken chart records across the globe

Since it was released on May 10, 2019, Watson’s second single has topped the charts in over 20 countries, including in her home of Australia, where she’s broken the record for most weeks at the top of the ARIA Singles chart. That title was previously held by Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape Of You’, which took the top spot for 15 consecutive weeks – at the time of writing, ‘Dance Monkey’ has been at Number One for 19 weeks. She’s also the first female artists to top the charts in Australia since Delta Goodrem in 2015.

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In the UK, Watson is also breaking records. ‘Dance Monkey’ has had the longest Number One chart run since Leona Lewis’ ‘Bleeding Love’ in 2007, while it’s also matched Whitney Houston and Rihanna for the longest-running chart-topper by a female artist in the UK. Those stars, who hit the top spot with ‘I Will Always Love You’ (1992) and ‘Umbrella’ (2007) respectively, both dropped off the peak after 10 weeks. If Watson continues her dominance for one more week, she will claim the record solely for herself.

It’s taken from Tones And I’s debut EP, ‘The Kids Are Coming’

It’s still early in Watson’s career – ‘Dance Monkey’ was only her second single, preceded by the self-released track ‘Johnny Run Away’ in February 2019. Since then, she’s put out her debut EP ‘The Kids Are Coming’ (via Bad Batch/Sony Music Australia), featuring songs about fear of failure (‘Never See The Rain’) and the inspiring rise of her fellow Gen Z peers (‘The Kids Are Coming’).

And has already made her an in-demand live act

You’ve just missed Watson’s first UK shows, but she’s already announced plans to come back. After making her first appearances in the country at tiny venues Oslo and The Lexington last month, she’s levelling up on her return in February 2020. See her full UK tour dates below.

February 2020

28 – London, O2 Forum Kentish Town
29 – London, Electric Ballroom

March 2020

1 – Manchester, O2 Ritz
3 – Dublin, Vicar Street
4 – Glasgow, SWG3

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