Hot 100 Review: Dance Monkey by Tones and I

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Watch the video:

I have zero introduction to this one. I have no background with this artist, song, producer, or anything. So let’s jump in, just like the song.

Okay, so what sticks out almost immediately is Tones and I (I’ll will say Tones for ease of writing and conciseness) unique voice. It matches the songs title at least because she sounds what a chimpanzee might sound like if they picked up both singing and the use of the English language in a week. That sounds negative, but really works because it does not feel like her natural singing voice. It is all a auto-tune and after effects. There are some lines and phrases where her voice is so pitched to a howler sing and shows her talent. Those effects are a real gamble, but work to bring out this raw energy and fire by making her sound wild.

Dance Monkey is not a lyrically dense song. There is not enough of a verse, chorus, verse structure to analyze so I’ll cut to it. The main idea comes from the line, “Just like a Monkey I’ve been dancing my whole life.” It’s drawing the allusion to those circus monkeys that dance when people play a tune. This is reiterated throughout the song numerous times. She doesn’t say that line specifically, but says, “Dance for me,” “They say move for me,” and, “… when you’re done I’ll make you do it all again.” It’s very explicit. She is being forced to preform for others, but having it spun as if it’s just a favor. The way she sings it, it feels very slimy and manipulative.

The lyrics might be straightforward about what the song is about, but it is phrased well to make it feel open to be about anything. Saying it like that could make it be read as vague to be lazy, or cliche. It dances (ha pun) that line well. To compare it to Lewis Capaldi’s song last week, his lyrics were cliche and brought nothing new lyrically, thematically, or visually. These lyrics, along with the vocal work paint the visuals of being forced to do something against your will. The obvious connection would be dancing, but it can be anything. As long as someone is acting like you’re doing them a favor by dancing (again it can be any manipulative task. I’ll stick with dancing because that’s the lyric) you are a monkey, a pawn, a lackey to the powerful.

For a lyrically bare song that’s a lot of thematic work going on. That’s because the theme is baked into the production and beat as well. The best description would be restrained. It is a very restrained song. Purposefully so. It’s use of keyboard, drum kit, and hooks give off a tin like atmosphere. An artificial atmosphere, but instead of big base, and heavy drops it’s replaced with pins falling, finger snaps, and light rhythm. It gives the song an air of reluctance to match the lyrical theme. This too is shown as a deliberate choice because it does pick up and get big near the second verse and bridge (closest thing the song has to a bridge). Similarly to Tones voice, it’s all to build this soundscape and theme.

The video has Tones dressed as an old man with a home aid. Two old man friends break him out and he goes driving around, playing around, and playing golf out on the course. It is an interesting framing of the song. This makes the song feel rejuvenating and going back to youth. It makes the song feel brighter. That feeling comes from how bright, sunny, and colorful the video is. A bunch of people in clashing golf wear out on a nice day will do that. It just doesn’t feel like it matches the lyrics of someone asking you to dance for them, and saying that they’ll make you do it again. It’s possible I am overthinking what that means. It could be that dancing like a monkey your whole life is more symbolic of being a goofball, and dancing one more time is being a goofball just like the video shows, but it just feels off.

Watching that video has really just kind of thrown me. I have never felt so confused on what a song is about. Circles at least added a dimension, and was so nonsensical I could ignore it. This feels like I can just ignore the video and say I nailed it, but then I got the vision of the song so wrong. Everything from the lyrics, to vocals, to production felt tailored for an experience the music video just did not deliver. Some of this might come from the alternate art on Spotify where its Tones in a void that has words fading in and out. That is all very tense and moody, totally unlike the video.

Even with my confusion I think the song still works. It’s crafted experience really worked for me even if I have some reading of it that is totally out of left field.

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