In Defence of Tones and I

Former busker Tones and I made an explosive entrance into the Australian music scene, her track Dance Monkey holding top spot on the Global Shazam Chart for months.

Its exponential growth worldwide saw the tune hit number one in 45 countries, scoring over one billion streams on Spotify since its 2019 release.

Dance Monkey also finished fourth on triple j’s Hottest 100 of 2019, Tones and I becoming one of five solo female artists in the top 10.

For the final six months of 2019, no one could turn on a commercial radio station or walk into a retail store without hearing the track.

But as Australians commonly do, her popularity has been met with public dissent, usually expressed on online platforms.

In a since deleted Instagram caption, Tones and I spoke out in November about the “relentless bullying directed at her and the impact it has had on her mental health.

Australians have a tendency to collectively turn against and mock any public figure that rises to prominence and experiences success, irrespective of talent.

Several high-profile stars have been outspoken about this phenomenon. Academy Award-nominated actress and Neighbours alum Margot Robbie was quizzed by Vanity Fair on her fame back home in Australia and had this to say.

“There’s a thing in Australia called tall-poppy syndrome. Have you heard of it? It’s a pretty prevalent thing—they even teach it in school,” said Robbie.

“Poppies are tall flowers, but they don’t grow taller than the rest of the flowers, so there’s a mentality in Australia where people are really happy for you to do well; you just can’t do better than everyone else or they will cut you down to size.”

In a 2017 clip from Late Nights with Seth Meyers, model and Orange Is The New Black star Ruby Rose hurriedly corrects Meyers when he discusses her fame in Australia.

“I’m not very famous… I’ll get in so much trouble if you say that,” said Rose.

“They don’t like hearing that back home.”

In 2017, columnist Van Badham made the connection between a smear campaign conducted by Australian gossip magazines against a fresh-faced Rebel Wilson with our love to see the mighty fall.

Critiques on Tones and I are mainly aimed at her voice, which definitely contains the inflections of the much-disparaged typical Indie Singer (best epitomised in the Vine below).

Not appealing to everyone, sure. But this in no way warrants the unending shitstorm of abuse and hatred towards a young musician.

There was a notable increase in online abuse around the time that voting was open for triple j’s Hottest 100. TikTok, Twitter and Facebook are all fertile ground for trolls to make fun of the artist.

@harlsmaloneEtch this in history ##hottest100 ##triplej ##jjj ##countryroad ##billieeilish ##dancemonkey @postmalone ##badguy ##australia ##foryou ##music ##art ##fyp ##aus♬ Merlins cover of Country Roads – deadp00l1131

Tones and I’s recent sets at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival engaged audiences and showed off her natural artistry. She was charismatic in-between numbers, connecting songs with low-key storytelling, ultimately leading huge sing-a-longs to the very track that people have been collectively dumping on.

This anecdote, one of countless many, highlights our nation’s collective hypocrisy.

Let’s reject bullying, shirk our supposed need to tear down successful exports, and instead join in and celebrate as one when one of our own makes it big.

Image by Rachel Darling