The Week In Pop

Tones And I Is Turning The World Into “Dance Monkey” Junkies

This year has already given us one Kevin Garnett “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!” viral triumph by the name of Lil Nas X. You probably know that story by heart: A savvy young meme-maker who may or may not have built his online following by running a Nicki Minaj fan account heavily promotes his country-rap novelty song across platforms including Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram, building up a genuine grassroots groundswell that spills over into established music industry channels, inspires discussions about how we define genre, brings Billy Ray Cyrus back to the spotlight, and leads to the longest-running #1 hit in history. Nas now has a foothold in the mainstream. His “Old Town Road” follow-up “Panini” hit the top five. He continues to be charming as hell. He’s becoming a real-deal celebrity. Even if he never scores another hit, he seems like he’ll continue to be in the limelight.

Now we get to see whether Toni Watson can pull off something similar. She’s already got the viral hit part figured out twice over. Watson, an Australian who records under the name Tones And I, was busking in the streets of Byron Bay this time last year. In February she uploaded her song “Johnny Run Away” to triple j Unearthed, an offshoot of Australia’s government-funded radio station triple j that allows listeners to rate and circulate music from unsigned artists. A bouncy synth-pop tune about a young boy struggling to accept his sexuality, it quickly became a sensation, rising to #12 on the Australian singles chart and landing Watson record deals at home and abroad. But her next single is the one that went supernova worldwide.

Once again produced by the duo of Tones And I and Konstantin Kersting, “Dance Monkey” features a lot of the same characteristics that helped “Johnny Run Away” pop off. Rather than staccato synth blurts, it begins with a piercing rhythmic piano riff like something out of a Ricky Reed production. Watson’s saucy rasp slices across that backdrop, evoking the commentary her busking would inspire: “You know you stopped me dead while I was passing by/ And now I beg to see you dance just one more time.” By the time the chorus arrives and the piano gives way to a low-slung electronic churn, the onlookers become a lot more demanding: “They say dance for me, dance for me, dance for me, oh oh oh/ I’ve never seen anybody do the things you do before/ They say move for me, move for me, move for me, ayy ayy ayy/ And when you’re done I’ll make you do it all again.”

It’s kind of a weird flex to write a song complaining about the voracious audience for your live act, but “Dance Monkey” itself has demonstrated just how addictive Tones And I can be. Since its release in May, the song has gone to #1 in 10 countries, from South Africa to France to Norway. In her native Australia, it remains atop the ARIA Singles Chart for a ninth straight week, tying Justice Crew’s “Que Sera” as Australia’s longest-running homegrown #1 hit. It seems likely to hit #1 in the UK this week too, where it would be the first chart-topping single by an Australian artist since Iggy Azalea guested on Ariana Grande’s “Problem” back in 2014.

“Dance Monkey” has been helped along by a silly music video featuring Watson dressed up as an elderly man who busts a move at the golf course. It further bolsters her reputation as an all-around entertainer, someone who’s skilled at making pop music but also has a huge personality. She’s basically one genius Twitter account away from Lil Nas X status in her own country. Here in America, she has yet to properly break through — “Dance Monkey” hasn’t cracked the Hot 100 or the Pop Songs chart, which measures Top 40 radio airplay — but it seems like only a matter of time given how widely the song has spread.

Or maybe Watson will establish herself in the US with a different hit. The song Elektra is currently pushing from her The Kids Are Coming EP is the title track, which sounds like Meghan Trainor’s idea of a Billie Eilish song, or Flo Rida remaking “Black Skinhead.” If that strikes you as a nightmarish description, well, the video is set up like a horror movie, a sort of hypebeast Children Of The Corn where the spooky youths are the good guys. It’s a lot, but to these ears “The Kids Are Coming” is a lot less annoying than “Dance Monkey,” a classic example of a hit that penetrates into your brain and takes over no matter how much you disdain it. “Dance Monkey” actively repels me, yet I know I’m going to be humming it to myself for weeks. Tones And I’s whole EP is that obnoxiously catchy, which bodes well for her future. If pop music history has shown us anything, that is a skill that will keep you in the game for the long haul.

CHART WATCH

Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” is #1 on the Hot 100 for a fifth straight week. As the woman herself explained, “IF WE KEEP THIS UP FOR 2 MORE WEEKS… TRUTH HURTS COULD BE THE LONGEST FEMALE RAP #1 OF ALL TIME….. RIGHT NOW ITS ‘FANCY.'” She went on to praise Charli XCX’s contribution to “Fancy” without mentioning lead artist Iggy Azalea, which inspired Azalea to heavily promote the week’s #2 single, “Señorita” by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, in hopes of bumping it back to #1. Iggy says this playful pettiness is all in good fun, and even if she’s truly being vindictive, I’m not sure Iggy still has the social media pull to swing the race for #1 anyhow.

Personally I’d rather the next #1 hit be Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved,” which reaches a new #3 peak this week. After Lil Tecca’s “Ransom” at #4 comes another new peak, Chris Brown and Drake’s “No Guidance” at #5. Per Billboard it’s Brown’s first top five hit since 2008’s “Forever,” so nice job Drake. (Drake now has landed 15 hits in the top five, all of them in the 11 years since Brown last charted in the region.) The rest of the top 10: Lil Nas X’s “Panini,” Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Post Malone’s “Circles,” Post Malone and Young Thug’s “Goodbyes,” and Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Old Town Road.”

Over on the Billboard 200 albums chart, Post Malone’s Hollywood’s Bleeding reigns for a third straight week after racking up 149,000 equivalent album units. Debuting at #2 is Zac Brown Band’s The Owl thanks to 106,000 units, 99,000 of them via album sales. At #3 is another debut, Blink-182’s NINE, which tallied 94,000 units and 77,000 in sales. Both bands benefitted from the now-standard deployment of album-ticket bundles. The rest of the top 10 comprises Taylor Swift, Young Thug, Lil Tecca, Chris Brown, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, and Lil Nas X.

POP FIVE

Thomas Wesley – “Lonely” (Feat. Jonas Brothers)
Jonas Brothers pivoting to country is way more obvious than Diplo pivoting to country, yet I’m so much more caught off guard by it. Even more shocking: “Lonely” is one of the best, most fascinating pop-country songs I’ve heard in a while.

Halsey – “Clementine”
The dance sequence is as extra as you’d expect, but “Clementine” itself is pleasingly minimal. I love the way one of Halsey’s vocal tracks goes wild on the refrain, “I don’t need anyone, I just need everyone and then some.”

Zedd & Kehlani – “Good Thing”
Zedd’s shift from producing EDM-pop burners to shepherding straight-up pop bangers into the world continues to go swimmingly. I expect this jaunty little tune to give Kehlani a foothold at Top 40 radio just like “The Middle” did for Maren Morris.

Charlie Puth – “Cheating On You”
That squealing keyboard riff lets you know from the very beginning that shit is going down. The rest of “Cheating On You” does not disappoint.

Pitbull – “Get Ready” (Feat. Blake Shelton)
“Old Town Road” was fun and all but this is what it hath wrought.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • The Sun claims that Adele is dating Skepta. [The Sun]
  • BTS’ Jimin on the band’s controversial decision to play Saudi Arabia: “To put it simply, if there’s a place where people want to see us, we’ll go there.” [THR]
  • Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin had a wedding party on Monday, but first celebrated by buying $35k of exotic kittens. [THR]
  • Bieber also joins Dan + Shay on a new track, “10,000 Hours,” out tomorrow. [Twitter]
  • Beyoncé and Solange’s dad, Mathew Knowles, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. [TMZ]
  • Billie Eilish announced her 2020 arena WHERE DO WE GO? WORLD TOUR. [Billie Eilish]
  • Niall Horan shared a solo piano Eilish cover. [Twitter]
  • Zac Brown surprised released his “first-ever solo pop album” Controversy. Rolling Stone called the track “Swayze” the “worst song of the year.” [Rolling Stone]
  • The Advertising Week conference was criticized for booking a risqué Pitbull performance that some felt was at odds with a week of talks about gender parity. [Ad Age]
  • Michael Busbee, who co-wrote hits for Maren Morris, Pink, Florida Georgia Line, and Lady Antebellum, died at age 43. [Taste Of Country]
  • Halsey stars in this commercial for Amazon’s new hi-def streaming tier, Amazon Music HD. [YouTube]
  • Hailee Steinfeld released a video for “Afterlife.” [YouTube]
  • Kim Petras released another Halloween-inspired Turn Off the Light album. [The Fader]
  • Noah Cyrus has a new single called “Lonely.” [YouTube]
  • Garth Brooks will become the youngest person to receive the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song next spring. [Rolling Stone]
  • Lukas Graham released a new song called “Lie.” [YouTube]
  • Maluma and J Balvin probably have another hit on their hands with “Qué Pena.” [YouTube]
  • Also new this week is Meghan Trainor and Mike Sabath’s “Wave,” which is a lot better than I expected it to be. [YouTube]
  • Ariana Grande leads the MTV EMAs nominations. [EMAs]
  • Jonas Brothers did a Tiny Desk Concert. [NPR]
  • Christina Aguilera’s Addams Family song “Haunted Heart” is out now. [YouTube]
  • Camila Cabello covered Lewis Capaldi in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. [YouTube]
  • “Charts — I truly, truly do not understand how they work anymore,” says Taylor Swift. “My friend Ed [Sheeran] is such a chart monger. He’s obsessed with how it works and the math of it.” [Rolling Stone]

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