REVIEW | ‘Welcome To The Madhouse’: Nothing As Memorable As ‘Dance Monkey’

2019 was the year of the unlikely hit; it was the year Lil Nas X revolutionised country music with ‘Old Town Road’ and Billie Eilish put dark-pop on the map with ‘Bad Guy’. Perhaps the most surprising hit though was Tones and I’s (real name: Toni Watson) ‘Dance Monkey’. Over distorted electronica and vocal inflections aplenty, Watson sings the chorus that has now become helplessly imbedded in the minds of millions (“Dance for me, dance for me, dance for me, oh-oh-oh”). By the end of 2020, 18 months after it’s release, the track had gone multi-platinum across the world, reached number one in over 30 countries and broke countless records.

Having a song as big as ‘Dance Monkey’ – which as of writing has over 2.28 billion Spotify streams – can be a double edged sword; on the one hand it offers a leap-pad into global stardom, on the other it can overshadow everything that comes after; think about how Psy will always be defined by ‘Gangnam Style’ or how ‘Fireflies’ define Owl City. Or, think about, on a single-album basis, how all other singles from The Weeknd’s ‘After Hours’ have been overlooked in favour of mega-hit ‘Blinding Lights’.

For many artists, having a big hit like ‘Dance Monkey’ would have been a gateway to prolonged success, like ‘Drivers License’ has been for Olivia Rodrigo or, going further back, like ‘Just Dance’ was for Lady Gaga. Even when a big-hit isn’t a formula for continued chart domination, it can lead artists onto a fruitful career with a devoted cult following (think Carly Rae Jepsen or Lorde).

Tones and I, however, felt like a one-hit wonder from the get-go; ‘Dance Monkey’ always felt like too much of a gimmick to lead to something more substantial and long-lived. Sure enough, in the two years since ‘Dance Monkey’, Watson has failed to release anything that has captured the public’s attention in the way her breakout hit did – even if ‘Fly Away’ has received a minor uplift from TikTok.

In contrast to the distinctive ‘Dance Monkey’, ‘Welcome To The Madhouse’ gets lost in a sea of lifeless, generic EDM, where feelings of mental anguish are reduced to their crudest and least affecting; she sings glibly of the “highs and lows”, “fast and slow” on ‘Sad Songs’. It would be easy to dismiss Watson’s displays of sadness here, but everything she’s said in interviews post-Dance Monkey showcases a genuine melancholy and a well-intentioned desire to spread awareness of what Clairo earlier this week referred to as how “this industry drains young women until they’re not youthful anymore”. Unfortunately, Watson’s exploration of such themes is just done so un-deftly on her debut album. Each track feels almost amnesia-inducing; forgotten as soon as it’s over.

Score: 3.0

Best Tracks: none

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