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Tones and I, real name Toni Watson, has shot to stardom after her hit Dance Monkey topped charts worldwide.

How Dance Monkey’s Tones and I went from streets to global star

  • Australian pop hit Dance Monkey by Tones and I is topping global charts and has spent a record 16 weeks at No 1 in Australia
  • The musician behind the hit, 19-year-old Toni Watson, was just months ago living in a van and singing on the street

Australian pop hit Dance Monkey is topping global charts and has spent a record 16 weeks at No 1 in Australia, propelling teenager Toni Watson from busking obscurity to instant fame.

Just months ago the 19-year-old, known by the stage name Tones and I, was living in a van and singing on the street in the coastal town of Byron Bay, south of Brisbane.
Now her latest release has reached number one in 18 countries including Britain, France and Germany, as well as at home where it broke the record held by Ed Sheeran’s 2017 smash Shape of You, which spent 15 weeks at the top spot.

Before her debut single Johnny Run Away came out in March, Watson had spent a year playing her keyboard in public, too nervous to speak to passers-by between songs. But while she is now selling out shows worldwide, the singer says she looks back on those days with fondness.

“When I was busking, when I was paying for petrol with silver coins or when I was sneaking into hostels so I could park my van up and sleep in it, I had the best time of my life,” she told Australia’s Nova radio.

Dance Monkey has racked up more than 500 million plays on Spotify and is the first Australian tune to peak at No 1 on the streaming service’s Global Top 50 chart.

The track has even begun to infiltrate the tough North American music world – it has cracked Spotify’s top 10 in Canada and the top 20 in the US.

Although Watson’s rapid rise has been fuelled by online platforms, Dance Monkey relates the challenges she encountered as a busker trying to capture attention from audiences distracted by smartphones and social media.

“People were so used to being able to swipe to see something different to entertain themselves that the patience had diminished,” she told Australia’s Triple J radio. “You have to be quick … get on with the song.”

Watson says she looks back on her busking days with fondness. Photo: AFP

Watson signed with Warner Chappell Music in August and returned to Byron Bay that month to play at a local music festival. Her midday set drew a crowd of 20,000 people – a record for an opening act – dwarfing anything she ever may have imagined just a year earlier.