Tones and I (real name Toni Watson), wrote this song when she was a busker playing for tips at Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia. She loved the freedom of busking, but was dismayed by certain drunks and idiots who could ruin the experience. She came to the realization that attention spans were getting shorter now that entertainment is always a click away, so she had to tighten her act to get people to stick around for any length of time. This made her feel like a trained monkey, which inspired the song.
If you substitute "sing" for "dance" the meaning becomes more clear, but "Sing Monkey" doesn't sound right, and she wanted the song to be less personal.
There was a specific night that led Tones and I to write this song. "I had already been busking for six hours," she told Diffus. "One person ran past and stole my money, and another was drunk and tried to lean over and play my keyboard. The crowd was very drunk and rowdy. I said, 'I'm sorry, but this is it.' They tried to get me to keep playing, then they started booing me, and I was so frustrated because it showed me how people didn't have much patience anymore."
Some of the lyrics come directly from what people in the crowd said to her that night:
"I've never seen anybody do the things you do"
"I see the way you shine"
"You stopped me dead when I was passing by"
"You make me wanna cry"
Originally from the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Tones and I was working at a clothing store in Melbourne when she decided to take a chance at busking full time. It took her about a year to get a permit that allowed her to play a specific spot in the city, but she had to park far away. This was a problem because she had to transport gear, so she moved her operation to Byron Bay, where she started doing her busking in early 2018. One night, a guy walked past and gave her his card. That person, Jackson Walkden-Brown, became Tones and I's co-manager.
In the music video, directed by Liam Kelly and Nick Kozakis, Tones is an old man who runs amok on a golf course with some other elderly friends. It has nothing to do with the song: she thought up the concept before writing "Dance Monkey," and by the time the video was commissioned, she wanted to have some fun. The "old Tones" character proved quite popular, and the low-budget video quickly garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
Watson told Q magazine: "I have the kind of personality that is silly, but also it protected me, the old Tones. That old man protected me from, you know, being really camera shy, and stuff."
The song reached #1 in Australia on the August 5, 2019 ARIA chart. Tones and I was the first female artist to reach the summit in Australia since Delta Goodrem did so with "Wings" in 2015. She was also the first Australian artist to reach the peak position in 2019.
"Dance Monkey" topped the charts in several other countries, including Norway and Sweden.
"Dance Monkey" set a new mark when it entered its 16th week at #1 on Australia's ARIA Singles chart. It broke the record for the most weeks atop the survey, previously held by Ed Sheeran's "Shape Of You
Tones and I didn't write "Dance Monkey" for radio. Instead, she penned the song for residents at the Byron Bay hostel where she was living so they could all dance to it. She was shocked when it became a hit.
The song spent 11 weeks at the top of the UK chart, breaking the record for the longest-running #1 single by a female artist. The feat was previously held jointly at 10 weeks by Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You
" and Rihanna's "Umbrella
"Dance Monkey" led the charts in over 30 countries worldwide, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, The Netherlands and the UK.
"Dance Monkey" was declared the most Shazamed song of all time with 36.6 million searches in a list published by the music identifying platform on November 17, 2020.