Tones and I has lived out the journey that many pop stars can only hope to achieve: a global No.1, a record-breaking smash hit.
However, the busker-turned chart-topper was far from an overnight success: she put in many hours performing for passers-by on Australian streets, honing her craft and learning how to hook people in.
She was busking in Byron Bay when inspiration struck: hecklers attempting to ruin her set by demanding she play more songs while others tried to steal her money. The resulting hit reads like a puppeteer controlling the movements of a person, feeling entitled to their talents and wanting to control their every move.
For Tones and I, it's never been about fame, it's been about the talent and pushing herself to work as hard as she can.
"I never thought I'd be a recording artist," the 26-year-old explains.
"It was all about performing [live] . . . you have a short amount of time to give people what they feel like they need . . . you really have to touch people quickly and hold their attention."
She translated her busking skills to the attention-grabbing hit Dance Monkey. Since it was released last May, the song has had mere than one billion streams and topped the charts in more than 30 countries. It peaked on the US charts single at No. 4 and spent 11 weeks as top banana in the No.1 spot here. Ten months later, it's still in our Top 20, sitting pretty at No. 12.
"I'm very hard on myself," she admits, sharing that if she doesn't hit the right note on stage, even if nobody notices, she'll feel bad.
"To me, it's so important to maintain integrity in the sound of my voice. I don't use autotune, I've never altered my vocals in any way.
"I think that does come from being a performer first. I think there are the people who write music in their room these days, and then if a song takes off, they're like s*** I've got to perform it," the singer says.
An outsider may assume that she would be free from self-doubt. Her vocals are faultless, just watch any of her live performances on YouTube to hear that. When I talk with her, she speaks openly about her talents and sounds sure of them. However, when she started experiencing commercial success, she was dealing with serious imposter syndrome.
"I used to feel like I wasn't good enough all the time," she says.
"When your song goes that big, it's not always going to be loved," before saying that, until now, she had completely forgotten that she felt like that.
"I guess over the past six months, I've really come into my own and realised that I am good enough."
At the Aria Awards in November, Tones and I got up on stage to accept the award for best female artist. In her trademark cap and baggy clothing, she admitted to the world that she never felt like she would fit in next to other, more conventional pop stars.
"When I was busking on the street, no one gave a s*** about what I looked like. No one cared, people came for the music and they stayed for the music. Then all of a sudden, you have to be a certain image," she says. "I worked my whole life on my music, I didn't work a whole lot on image and trying to portray myself as something I'm not."
Tones and I has recently put out two new singles, signposting her next steps as an artist. Previously she'd avoided being vulnerable, hiding behind anecdotes and lyrics that tiptoed around her true feelings. That has changed with her two new songs, Bad Child and Can't Be Happy All The Time, which are inspired by her own experiences.
She was so reluctant to share her own personal stories that she said her latest release, Bad Child, was about someone else in an interview. In reality, it's an honest depiction of her childhood, a topic on which she never thought she would release a song.
"I said it was about someone else because I wasn't ready," she says. When the song was released, she saw how much her fans connected with it.
"I realised straight away you can't release a song and say it's not about you, when it is, because when fans connect to it, you want to [to be able] be like, 'you're the person I'm writing it for'.
"You've got to be honest because otherwise, you ruin the connection between you and your fans."
When Tones and I speak, we're both confined to our homes because of a pandemic. For me, the writer who spends a lot of time indoors anyway, I'm getting used to it. For a chart-topping musician like Toni Watson, the artist has had to delay what she loves doing, performing shows.
"I've definitely made sure that I said to my team, I want them [the shows] to be postponed. I don't want it to be a cancellation, I have to go back and see those faces and play those shows," she says.
What's next for Tones and I? She says she doesn't feel the pressure to replicate the success of Dance Monkey. Because of the pandemic, she's decided to release a longer album than planned, and teased a collaboration with one of her favourite artists of all time.
"If my fans are going to support me, I'm going to do my best to make them happy."
Who: Australian pop singer Tones and I
What: New single Bad Child has just been released
When: It's out now
MORE SONGS ABOUT MONKEYS
Our animal cousins have long been a source of musical inspiration. Here's some of our faves.
Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey
John Lennon's wild rocker is, he claimed, a love song. "It was about me and Yoko," he said at the time. "Everybody seemed to be paranoid except for us two, who were in the glow of love." However, fellow Beatle Paul McCartney had a different interpretation reckoning that 'monkey' was street slang for heroin. Were Lennon and his monkey hiding something after all?
Not a song about being extremely cold, instead this party track from the Beastie Boys bratty debut Licensed to Ill chronicles the feeling, effects and aftermath of drinking the cocktail known as the Brass Monkey. If you want to try it during lockdown it's fairly simple: one part vodka, one part orange juice and one part dark rum served over ice.
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Black Francis' ode to humanity's wanton destruction of the world wraps its harsh environmental warning about ocean dumping and ozone burning in a sustainable wrapper of religion, Hebrew numerolgy and Greek mythology. Which is a lot to cram into a song that doesn't even run three minutes. On top of that, it's more catchy than a chimp swinging through the trees. Such is the genius of classic era Pixies.
One of the great opening riffs of all time. Monkey Wrench comes charging at you like a pissed-off gorilla that wants you out of his personal space yesterday. Fitting as the song is all about the failing of Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl's four-year marriage and the feels he had over that. An amicable split? Um, no. Sounds like it wasn't . . .
But wait . . . there's more. No self-respecting listicle about Monkey songs is complete with this Kiwi . . . well, classic isn't the right word . . . um, song? Yeah, this Wiwi song by infomercial queen Suzanne Paul. Over a generic four-to-the-floor dance beat, Paul repeats some famous lines from her ads as well as a few dancefloor-filling adlibs like, "Why are ya sitting? You could be knitting," and "Ooo, what are ya like?". "Loads of fun!" she exclaims at one point, which leads me to suspect she was listening to a different song.