Tones and I on busking and dealing with fame after her single 'Dance Monkey': 'There's a lot of pressure'
Tones and I couldn’t care less about having another hit.
“It’s great that it happened, but I don’t care if another song goes to number one for the rest of my life,” says the 19-year-old Australian singer, whose track “Dance Monkey” has garnered over 1.5 billion streams worldwide and hit No. 1 in 20 countries.
But there’s more to Tones’ music than her breakout 2019 single. If her EP’s titular song “The Kids Are Coming” is any indication, she is very much a product of her generation, with lyrics that call on Gen Zers to do everything from shoot a funny TikTok video to volunteer for a cause they care about. Simultaneously, her voice is melodic and raw — the sort of refreshingly imperfect sound that makes fans want to keep tuning in.
On the phone from Australia, Tones — who got her start busking on the streets of Byron Bay in 2018 — spoke to EW about the pressures of unexpected fame and her creative process.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why do you think “Dance Monkey” has resonated with listeners?
TONES AND I: The song I guess has become everyone’s song. [My manager] told me that it definitely wouldn’t be a radio hit, that it would just be a live song. So, I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. But now it’s one of the biggest radio hits of the year, maybe because it’s just a bit weird.
“Dance Monkey” was actually about an experience you had one night while busking. Tell me more about that time in your life.
I loved that part of my life. I was living with all my friends in a van, so it was really hot in the morning. I would get up at six, otherwise I’d wake up in a ball of sweat. Then we’d just go down to the beach or play basketball and then go busk at night for like four, five hours. It was a good life. Everyone talks about how it must have been difficult, but it really wasn’t. It was probably the best time I’ve ever had.
How does that compare to what life is like for you now?
One is a life that people think isn’t good and one is a life where people think, “Well aren’t you so lucky that you went through that hard time to get here?” But in my mind, I was way happier then than now. I’m still happy, but it’s very different. Everything is very serious now. It’s good to have a fanbase to share my songs with, to be excited about releasing a track, and to have someone give a s–t. And playing the shows that I’ve gotten to play are amazing. But everything is so structured. I’ve just gone from 0 to 100, flying overseas. And I don’t want to disappoint people, but I’m a nervous flyer, you know? There’s a lot of pressure.
Tell me more about your single “The Kids are Coming” and the music video for it, which references causes like the Women’s March and climate change awareness.
I wanted it to be a song where people could feel empowered and motivated, not just one of those upbeat, charming songs. I wanted it to have a bit of grit and base and grunt. I got a bunch of really inspiring young activists from all around the world to come and be a part of that [music video] and everyone had their own thing that they really, really care about. Mine is antibullying. And we had someone representing the transgender community, antipollution, etc.
I was talking to my friends about that song before we wrote it. We were just talking about everything that’s going on [in the world] at the moment. It was just a conversation we had for an hour, and I ended up writing a song about it. It’s not my favorite song to listen to, but it’s the first song I’d ever produced on my own, so it’s always going to have a special place.
Looking into the future, what do you want to be known for as an artist?
I haven’t really been able to do much yet. I’ve really only released six songs, one EP. If there’s one thing I want to be known for, it’s being very strongly against bullying and trying to send a positive message to teenagers.