An artist's next move after a big hit is always watched closely, but Tones and I found a way to be free of the pressure.
Her new album, Welcome To The Madhouse is an introspective commentary on what it meant to go viral with Dance Monkey, but it's also a record that captures the complexities of her as an artist.
Speaking to the Herald over the phone, Toni Watson eagerly speaks about her next chapter and how the pandemic and grief informed her album.
Her close friend Ben Tournier - who she calls T - was killed in a car accident in January and her grief ended up being a thread that tied her album together.
"Come March , I still wasn't able to write in the studio or really do anything."
"I was going through a tough time because I couldn't write a song that wasn't about him," she explains, and the songs about him weren't working. But a word of advice from a friend, to look up and find the sun on a cloudy day, was the serendipitous line that turned catalyst for writing the track Cloudy Day and finishing the album.
"And then all the other songs came out in two weeks," she said. "And I don't know what happened with that song, it just kind of changed everything."
"I didn't have enough songs to play a whole setlist. So if anyone's expecting anything from me, they're wrong," she says, speaking about one of the record's tracks, Bars. It's not a belting pop song fans unfamiliar with her busking days could be taken aback by.
Despite being confident in what she wants to say, Tones and I hasn't been immune from doubts.
"I was really nervous," she admits, thinking about what went through her mind when she was working on the album during the pandemic.
"I haven't been around for a long time, what if after this, I can't tour, I can't sell out the same shows," she says.
But now she is able to look back on the past year as a mix of good and bad, a space to spend quality time with a friend T who died in January this year.
"I mean, there's good and bad in everything, but mainly I think there was good because we actually spent the year with T. I wrote Fly Away and a few of the other songs on the album," she says.
"Little did we know it would be our last time together, and we had the trip of a lifetime [while on holiday]," she says.
Tones had intended to put out the album last August but realised the timing was not right. For an artist who gained as much momentum as she did with her viral success, that could have been a tough pill to swallow.
But a theme throughout her work, and her form as an artist, is going with what her gut tells her.
"It's always going to be my first album. So I had to make sure [it was right]."
Describing the album, she uses the word erratic - hence the title. For her, it doesn't stick to one genre or one theme.
"The only thing that's constant is my voice, and the rest is just my erratic emotions throughout lockdown, throughout busking, throughout working in retail even, throughout touring. The songs came out of those moments."
And pulling the album together meant pulling from different time periods in her life and being honest in her songwriting - including addressing the online bullying she has faced.
Her song Westside Lobby is a song on the record that sums up that message.
"So many artists around the world are allowed to talk about money, the beaches, and all this and I was like, 'nah, that's not what I want to do. But what I want to do is give myself the nod.
"You know, I've been through hell, like, the mill and back with online bullying, like we all do," and Tones knows that plenty of her fans can relate to that.
"I was sick of getting so down on myself," she says.
So who is Tones and I now in 2021? Her favourite song on the album, Just a Mess, gives you some clues about her evolution. The song "makes her cry" every time she sings it.
"I've never ever written a song about love before. So I wrote this song, and it ended up being about a breakup. I didn't mean for it to be, but it just came out really fluently."
And she always has her fans in mind; she wants them to have songs to relate to.
"If someone's going through that, they couldn't turn to my music because I didn't write about it," she says.
For now, she's not afraid of fun moments either. Bars (RIP T), the final track on the record is a tribute to her late friend and would be T's clear favourite. She even sent it to rap star Macklemore for his approval.
"I always say to myself, don't ever say no to putting something out there because you think people will think it's not 'you'."
• Tones and I's album Welcome To The Madhouse is out now on Sony Music. Catch her live in New Zealand at Bay Dreams next year.