By now, you’re no doubt acquainted with the infectious earworm of a bop that is ‘Dance Monkey’ by Tones and I but how much do you know about the Aussie singer who went from Byron Bay busker to chart-topping star?
Toni Watson — known professionally as Tones and I — took the world by storm in May 2019 with the release of the insanely popular track which would go on to reach number one in over 30 countries.
The single would also smash the Australian record for the most weeks at number one on the ARIA Singles Chart by any artist, was accredited 14× platinum by ARIA, and Tones And I would go on to be the most awarded artist at the ARIA Music Awards in 2019, winning an impressive four awards from her eight nominations.
In honour of the Aussie artist and her incredible success, we’re rounding up 6 things you may not know about Tones And I.
For more on this topic, follow the Pop Observer.
She was living in a van during her days as a busker
Tones And I was no overnight success, with Watson working tirelessly as a busker in Byron Bay while living in a van prior to her international stardom.
“I pretty much bought a van and took two weeks annual leave because I wasn’t 100% sure that anything would work,” she told ABC.
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“I came up to Byron and on the first night of busking a guy walked past and he was like, ‘Here’s my card.’ A month later, I was like ‘what have I got to lose’.
“I took it really seriously, did it like a job. I wrote music Monday to Friday and then I’d busk all weekend. I did that for eight months.”
She told the Evening Standard in 2019, “I was living in my van, playing on the street for almost two years. When I started busking I had no money but I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
She has since purchased several multimillion-dollar homes
A world away from the days of sleeping rough in a van, Tones has since purchased several homes across Australia, with her fourth home being a $7.08 million mansion on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.
According to a report by realestate.com.au, the stunning state-of-the-art home features a basement lounge, pool and spa, and marble kitchen complete with a $150,000 oven, and is walking distance from another home in Mount Eliza she bought for $5.1 million in May last year, according to a report by the Herald Sun at the time.
She also bought a $3.3 million Byron Bay retreat in December last year and owns a property in Melbourne’s Frankston, which she bought for$800,000 in an off-market deal.
She learned to play the keyboard in high school
Watson first learned to play the keyboard at high school in her hometown of Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, where she “started playing around with a drum pad and sound effects and loop pedals and that’s how I found my sound.”
She added: “I actually got made redundant from my retail job and with that money, I bought an RC300 (loop station) and just started to try to figure it all out.”
Looks like she certainly did figure it all out!
She wrote ‘Dance Monkey’ about the dark side of busking
As per Rolling Stone Australia, the track that would later become a global phenomenon was “written after one particularly trying night out busking in Byron, Tones had been performing for six hours when one drunkard stole her money and another tried to play her keyboard. After telling the crowd she was done for the night, she was booed.
“It wouldn’t be the last time a crowd would treat her like she was their property; a monkey created to entertain. During her first festival appearance at New Zealand’s Bay Dreams, a section of the crowd chanted “dance monkey, dance monkey” over and over, unwittingly feeding into the exact narrative the song was about.”
She has written two songs with her idol Macklemore
Speaking to the Gold Coast Bulletin last year, Watson spoke out about achieving one of her life-long goals, working with her idol, Macklemore. Tones revealed that she had written two songs with the American rapper, whose real name is Benjamin Hammond Haggerty.
“That’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me, meeting Macklemore,” the singer gushed at the time. “He ended up asking me to come back to Seattle and wanted to record with me, we wrote two songs together,” Tones explained, adding: “From when I got there to when I left he was like a big brother.”
As per The Industry Observer, Tones has made no secret of her love for the hip hop star, frequent citing him as one of her major influences.
“Since I started listening to him, which was years ago, I had moments of breakups, family events, when I used to be an athlete, getting ready for games. And anything that I was ever feeling, there was the Macklemore song for me. And I’ve cried to his music. I’ve been so motivated, inspired by his music. I’ve ran kilometres with his music.
“And then to see him walk in front of me, that’s what I mean when I say it feels like you know them forever and they’ve helped you. They’re like a friend that’s helped you through so much. And for me to be a stranger to him at the start, and then to become friends with him and to write with him, which ended up happening after he saw my live show, he wanted me to come back to his studio the next day and write with him, I just didn’t think that was possible in my lifetime.”
Macklemore also gifted Tones a signed vinyl of his smash record The Heist today for her birthday. On the cover he wrote: “Tones – You’re a beautiful soul… thank you for sharing with the world. So glad our paths crossed… Happy Bday Love Ben.”
She received death threats after making it big
Despite the Aussie signer’s incredible achievements, Watson has been open about the vitriol of negativity she received following the release of ‘Dance Monkey’, saying she had received “death threats” and “relentless bullying” from strangers.
“To my fans, I love you unconditionally but I have been hiding a big black hole for a while now and feel if I hid it like most artists do then how are we going to help the next generations of young artist (sic) to come,” she wrote alongside pictures from the ARIAs at the time of her wins.
“Truth is (and we have all seen it) with success comes judgement and opinions, this I was prepared for, it’s normal (which is sickening) but the relentless bullying that follows every proud moment tears my mind in two.
“I am a very open honest, caring, good person and in the dark times of death threats and very harsh judgements from strangers I have never met, I have decided to push past it and show any artist that you can get through it and maintain your sense of self, even though I don’t see an end in sight, this is how I will live my life now.
“I am Toni Watson, A female artist from Australia. I am going through the best and worst time of my life. And today I am OK. I love you and as always.. we are in this together.”