Tones and I

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Tones and I
A woman is singing into a hand-held microphone with her eyes partly closed. The back of her right hand has an obscured image or a tattoo. She wears a white cap and rose-coloured glasses. Her hair is strawberry blonde and hangs down past her shoulders. She wears a red and blue jacket.
Watson performing at Laneway Festival, Sydney in February 2020
Background information
Birth nameToni Watson
Also known as
  • Tones
  • Tonah
BornMount Martha, Victoria, Australia
OriginFrankston, Victoria, Australia
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
Years active2009–present
Labels Edit this at Wikidata

Toni Watson, known professionally as Tones and I, is an Australian singer, songwriter, and record producer. Her breakout single, "Dance Monkey" (May 2019), reached number one in over 30 countries, including Australia. In November 2019, it broke the ARIA record for the most weeks at number one on their singles chart by any artist with 16 weeks. By mid-January 2020, "Dance Monkey" had spent its 24th and final week at number one, beating Bing Crosby's all-time Australian record for his version of "White Christmas", which spent 22 weeks at the top in 1943. "Dance Monkey" was accredited 16×  platinum by ARIA for shipments of over 1,120,000 units, by mid-2021.

Tones was the most awarded artist at the ARIA Music Awards of 2019, winning four of eight nominations. She released her debut extended play, The Kids Are Coming, on 30 August 2019, which peaked at number three in Australia, and top 10 in several countries. Her debut album, Welcome to the Madhouse, was released via Bad Batch on 16 July 2021. It debuted at number one on the ARIA Albums Chart. The album's lead single "Fly Away" peaked at number four in Australia and number 11 in the UK and Denmark and number 10 in Ireland.

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Toni Watson grew up in Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula to the south of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria.[3][4] Conflicting reports state she was born in either 1993 or 2000.[5] The artist prefers not to disclose her birth details, explaining, "I never denied my age. I never lied about it. I just don't say anything now... Everything is wrong online."[6]

She explained choosing a music career: "One day I was at the park with my family, all my cousins and stuff, in Frankston... We were all just singing a song and my aunty was like 'oh guys, she can actually hold a note.' I think that's the earliest memory of someone actually pointing me out as someone that has an ability to sing. I was probably like 7 years old."[7] The singer-songwriter had learned to play keyboards and drum pads while at secondary school.[7] She started busking in Melbourne, while working in fashion retail at the Universal Store.[3][4][8]

In 2009, as Toni Watson, she created a YouTube page and posted a cappella cover versions of songs.[5] She performed local gigs and festivals, including the Let Go festival.[3] Tones was the vocalist for a duo in 2014,[3] and remembered: "I started out singing in small pubs and bars in Mornington, I was singing along to a guitarist until I ended up branching out on my own."[9] She explained her shift to a solo career: "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."[7] She busked "up and down the east coast with her synthesizers and loop pedal, she has been building a loyal fanbase and captivating crowds with her genre-diverse style."[3]

In September 2017, the singer-songwriter travelled to Byron Bay, New South Wales to try busking there.[7][10] At an early performance, she met Jackson Walkden-Brown who became her manager about a month later.[7][10][11] Her busking success led to a greater commitment to a music career. The artist spent 2018 living between Walkden-Brown's home in the Gold Coast hinterland and in her van in Byron Bay, writing music and busking full-time.[8][10] Later that year she won the Battle of the Buskers at Buskers by the Creek.[7][12]

2019–2020: "Dance Monkey" and The Kids Are Coming[edit]

In February 2019, Tones and I signed to Bad Batch Records/Sony Music Australia alongside a co-management deal with Artists Only (owned by Walkden-Brown, ex-Aerials) and Lemon Tree Music (co-owned by Regan Lethbridge and David Morgan, both ex-Bonjah).[8][13][14] In that month she uploaded her debut single, "Johnny Run Away", to Australian national youth radio station Triple J's website, Unearthed, which publishes the music of unsigned artists.[15] The track was recorded with Australian producer, Konstantin Kersting.[16] AllMusic's Fred Thomas observed, "[it] became a viral sensation, racking up streams."[17]

"Johnny Run Away" was added to full rotation on Triple J the following week and received high ratings from staff: Richard Kingsmill (four-and-a-half out of five stars), Tommy Faith (five stars) and Declan Byrne (four-and-a-half stars).[7][18] Natalie O'Driscoll of Blank Gold Coast described the track, "a melodic slice of Nordic-inspired electro-pop that tells a very important story."[12] Two weeks later, Tones and I officially released "Johnny Run Away".[15] It peaked at number 12 on the ARIA Singles Chart and achieved triple platinum status for shipments of over 210,000 units.

On 10 May 2019, Tones and I released her second single, "Dance Monkey".[19] She recalled the track was "Written alone in a dark closet in not much more than 30 minutes."[10] Craig Mathieson of The Age felt, "It's pop writ large – catchy yet familiar, slightly ludicrous yet genuinely affecting."[20] It reached number one on the official music charts of over 30 countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.[21][22][23]

"Dance Monkey"'s music video was directed by Liam Kelly and Nick Kozakis.[24] In Australia, in November of that year, she broke the record for the most weeks atop the ARIA Singles Chart by any artist, with 16 weeks. This was previously held by Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" (15 weeks in 2017).[22] By mid-January 2020, "Dance Monkey" had spent 24 weeks at number one.[25] It was the first Australian song to reach number one on Spotify's global daily top 200 streaming chart.[26] On 8 February 2020, it equalled Post Malone's "Rockstar" for the most days at number one on the same chart.[27] As of 18 February 2020, "Dance Monkey" returned to the Spotify top spot and had spent 120 days at number one.[28]

Tones and I standing behind a keyboard while also singing into a microphone. She wears a red and white cap with the lettering "The Kids Are Coming". She also wears a multi-coloured jacket and is looking down at a sheet on a stand.
In a concert performing on keyboards, February 2020

In May 2019, Tones performed at the Big Pineapple Music Festival, as well as opening Splendour in the Grass 2019 as the Triple J Unearthed Splendour in the Grass competition winner,[29] where she broke the record for the biggest crowd of an opening set.[30][31] In July, she released a third single, "Never Seen the Rain", and followed with her six-track debut extended play, The Kids Are Coming on 30 August 2019.[32] In September 2019, Tones and I performed "Dance Monkey" and "The Kids Are Coming" at the AFL Grand Final with an audience of 100,000.[33][34] In January 2020, three of the EP's tracks were listed on the Triple J Hottest 100, 2019: "Dance Monkey" (No. 4), "Never Seen the Rain" (No. 15) and "Johnny Run Away" (No. 26).[35]

On 1 February 2020, she started her Kids Are Coming World Tour with five Laneway Festival dates in Australia and seven dates in North America.[36][37] Riff Magazine's Rachel Goodman caught her performance in San Francisco in mid-month, "[she] brought a palpable energy to the stage, which concertgoers enthusiastically reciprocated... [and] spoke about busking every day on the streets of Byron Bay in Australia and how she learned to communicate with audiences—and quickly capture people's attention."[38]

A total of 52 dates were announced for the tour through to July.[36][37] However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic local tour dates were rescheduled from April 2021.[39][40] Likewise, the artist curtailed her European performances, "I must cut short the rest of my first tour over here, as the majority of the remaining shows have already been cancelled due to government policy and I do not want to subject anyone to making a choice between coming to see me and their health."[41]

On 7 May 2020 Triple J premiered a new song, "We Can’t Wait to Go Back to a Festival When This Is Over", as part of a COVID-19 self-isolation musical challenge, Quarantune.[42] On 20 May, "Dance Monkey" reached 1 billion views on YouTube.[43] It won the Grand Prize of the 2019 International Songwriting Competition, which was announced in May 2020.[44][45] Also in that month the artist appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone (Australia) and was interviewed by its managing editor, Poppy Reid.[46][47] Reid had seen her at the Laneway Festival in February, "there's a manic energy and excitement surrounding her at all times... [she] offers a new blueprint for future generations... the possibility of a global career built out of regional Australia, sans a major label... and without a stack of co-writers."[6]

2020–2021: Welcome to the Madhouse[edit]

During August 2020 the singer, and her management, sponsored an Instagram-based competition, That One Song, which featured a different developing artist each day, "to share original content" on her account.[48][49] After 2 September the finalists were voted for by the public, from the 20 artists previously show-cased.[49] The competition was won by pop rock duo, Monatomic's entry, "They're Playing My Song".[50][51] Tones and I co-headlined a virtual concert, with Gary Clark Jr., on 5 and 6 September 2020.[52][53] The performances were fundraisers for the Equal Justice Initiative and were streamed live on various media channels.[52][53]

The artist also announced in September that her debut album is expected in 2 or 3 months, "I've taken the time to just really make sure it's what I want. And I want to add more music to the album. It will be my first ever album, so I really want to make sure I'm proud of it."[54] The singer's next single, "Fly Away", appeared in mid-November, and its first live performance occurred on 24 November at the Newcastle Civic Theatre.[55] The single achieved moderate global success, peaking at 4 in Australia, 10 in Ireland, 11 in the UK and Denmark, and top 40 in several European countries.

For the 2020 ARIA Music Awards she received three further nominations and joined an all-female ensemble for a tribute performance of "I Am Woman" in honour of Helen Reddy (1941–2020).[56] In April 2021 she restarted her Australian national tour in Melbourne, which visited east coast capitals as well as Cairns into May.[57] Her single, "Won't Sleep", was released on 14 May.[57]

Tones and I released her debut album Welcome to the Madhouse,[58] on 16 July 2021 via Bad Batch/Sony Music Australia.[59] It includes the singles, "Fly Away", "Won't Sleep" and "Cloudy Day" (June 2021). Guardian Australia's Shaad D'Souza rated the album at two-out-of-five stars, and described it as "unadventurous and occasionally exhausting".[60] D'Souza expanded, "the vast majority of the record deals with Watson’s struggle with mental health issues as well as the cruelty of her haters, both online and in real life. But beyond the logline, there's little to connect with here."[60] Martin Boulton of The Sydney Morning Herald gave it four stars, stating, "Behind her clever, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and strong, occasionally soaring, vocals is a self-confessed outsider attempting to open herself up through music. No easy task."[61] The album debuted at number one on the ARIA Albums Chart and spent 4 weeks within the top 50.

2022: Second studio album[edit]

In January 2022, Tones and I told Triple J's Sose Fuamoli, "I've already started this next album that's coming out in August; it's very different."[62] She has also collaborated with Macklemore for a song.[62]


Awards and nominations[edit]

AIR Awards[edit]

The Australian Independent Record Awards (commonly known informally as AIR Awards) is an annual awards night to recognise, promote and celebrate the success of Australia's Independent Music sector. The inaugural ceremony occurred in 2006.[63]

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2020 "Dance Monkey" Independent Song of the Year Won [64][65]
The Kids Are Coming Best Independent Pop Album or EP Nominated
Herself Breakthrough Independent Artist of the Year Won

APRA Music Awards[edit]

The APRA Music Awards are held in Australia and New Zealand by the Australasian Performing Right Association to recognise songwriting skills, sales and airplay performance by its members annually. The Australian ceremonies began in 1982. Tones and I has won four awards from eight nominations.[66][67]

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2020 "Dance Monkey" Song of the Year Won [68]
Most Performed Australian Work of the Year Nominated
Most Performed Pop Work of the Year Nominated
Herself Breakthrough Songwriter of the Year Won
2021 "Never Seen the Rain" Most Performed Australian Work of the Year Won [69][70]
Most Performed Pop Work of the Year Won
"Bad Child" Song of the Year Shortlisted [71]
2022 "Fly Away" Most Performed Australian Work of the Year Nominated [72][73]
Most Performed Australian Work Overseas Won
Most Performed Pop Work of the Year Won
Song of the Year Shortlisted [74]

ARIA Music Awards[edit]

The ARIA Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony that recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music. The first ceremony occurred in 1987. For the 2019 awards, Tones and I was nominated for eight awards and won four.[75]

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2019 "Dance Monkey" Best Female Artist Won [76]
Breakthrough Artist Won
Best Pop Release Won
Song of the Year Nominated
Liam Kelly & Nick Kozakis for Tones and I – "Dance Monkey" Best Video Nominated
The Kids Are Coming Best Independent Release Won
Konstantin Kersting for Tones and I – "Dance Monkey" Engineer of the Year Nominated
Producer of the Year Nominated
2020 "Bad Child" / "Can't Be Happy All the Time" Best Female Artist Nominated [77][78]
"Ur So F**kInG cOoL" Best Video Nominated
"Never Seen the Rain" Song of the Year Nominated
2021 Welcome to the Madhouse Album of the Year Nominated [79]
Best Artist Nominated
"Fly Away" Best Pop Release Nominated
Song of the Year Nominated
Nick Kozakis, Liam Kelly, Tones and I for Tones and I – "Won't Sleep" Video of the year Nominated
Giulia Giannini McGauran & Mitchell Eaton for Tones and I for Welcome to the Madhouse Best Cover Art Nominated

International Songwriting Competition[edit]

The International Songwriting Competition (ISC) is an annual song contest for both aspiring and established songwriters. The judging panel is made up of musicians, songwriters and industry experts, and songs are judged on creativity, originality, lyrics, melody, arrangement and overall likeability.[80]

Year Category Nominated work Result Ref.
2019 Grand Prize "Dance Monkey" Won [45]

J Awards[edit]

The J Awards are an annual series of Australian music awards that were established by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's youth-focused radio station Triple J. They commenced in 2005.[81]

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2019 Tones and I Unearthed Artist of the Year Won [82]
2021 Welcome to the Madhouse Australian Album of the Year Nominated [83][84]

MTV Europe Music Awards[edit]

The MTV Europe Music Awards is an award presented by Viacom International Media Networks to honour artists and music in pop culture.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2019 Herself Best Australian Act Nominated [85]
2020 Herself Best Australian Act Nominated [86][87]

Music Victoria Awards[edit]

The Music Victoria Awards are an annual awards night celebrating Victorian music. They commenced in 2005.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2019 Tones and I Outstanding Achievement awarded [88]
Tones and I Breakthrough Victorian Act Nominated

National Live Music Awards[edit]

The National Live Music Awards (NLMAs) are a broad recognition of Australia's diverse live industry, celebrating the success of the Australian live scene. The awards commenced in 2016.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
National Live Music Awards of 2019 Herself Best New Act Won [89][90]

Rolling Stone Australia Awards[edit]

The Rolling Stone Australia Awards are awarded annually in January or February by the Australian edition of Rolling Stone magazine for outstanding contributions to popular culture in the previous year.[91]

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2021 Tones and I Rolling Stone Global Award Nominated [92]
2022 "Fly Away" Best Single Nominated [93]
Tones and I Rolling Stone Global Award Nominated

Spotify Awards[edit]

The Spotify Awards commenced in 2017.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
2020 Herself Biggest Increase in Fans – Female Artist Nominated [94]
Emerging Artist Won


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