Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nikki Lusk defends Lowbrow Music

by Nikki Lusk , June 3, 20141 Comment

Last week at the Highbrow vs Lowbrow Cultural Showdown, six of our favourite writers faced off to defend their preferred cultural forms. This week, we’re publishing their speeches in full for your edification. Here, Nikki Lusk defends lowbrow music.

TLC pic

Most people enjoy lowbrow music in the karaoke booth, when they’re belting out Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’, or in a club, when they’re dry-humping to Ginuwine’s ‘Pony’. But these feel-good uses of lowbrow music have unfairly saddled it with labels such as vapid or shallow, dismissing it as lightweight in comparison to the more culturally enriching or intellectually stimulating highbrow music.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: lowbrow music is essential to the survival of the human species. Without pop music, none of us would be capable of finding somebody to love, and as a result, we’d all wither and die. Lowbrow music is the perfect Agony Aunt: she will guide you through bizarre love triangles, and dish out the difficult advice when the going gets tough. Let’s take this step-by-step.

Step 1. You should identify what you’re looking for in a new flame. The pop consensus is that no one likes arrogance or those who consider themselves to be ‘hot stuff’. If you’re searching for a man, TLC will help you sort the men from the scrubs. And if you’re searching for a woman, it’s The Streets who’ll help you to avoid those women who are fit, but my God, don’t they just know it.

Step 2. To snag your desired partner, you’ll need a strategy for seduction. While specific methods will vary, the most popular idea is to turn up the temperature or, to borrow a technical phrase from Nelly, to make it hot in herre. The idea behind this increase in heat is one of bringing sexy back – because everyone knows there’s nothing sexier than a profusely sweating person on the dance floor. Once your crush is dripping wet, it’s about time to don a pair of arseless chaps and make things a little dirrty. A word of warning, however: if you’re trying to snag a literary snob, as I presume many of you reading this may be, to use two Rs in the words ‘dirty’ or ‘here’ is to risk instant rejection.

Step 3. Once you have their attention, and perhaps you’ve shared a little bump ‘n’ grind, you’ll need a manoeuvre that allows you to see them again. Pop songs traditionally prescribe something sweet and modest here. You could try the naive optimism of Carly Rae Jepsen, whose song launched a thousand lip dubs, and simply hand them a note that appends ‘maybe’ to the end of your request so that you don’t seem presumptuous. Another tried-and-true method is that practised by Rihanna, and it’s particularly good in drizzly Melbourne: you can invite them to stand under your umbrella.

Step 4. You’re doing well by this stage: the target of your affections has called you back, you’ve walked together under a protective rain covering, and you’re officially crazy in love. But when the initial bloom of romance fades, you might find things getting a little stale. Thankfully, Mrs Carter has been there before us and is willing to share the secrets of her successful marriage to Jay Z: getting drunk in the kitchen, riding a surfboard, and – this one’s for all the grown women out there – having someone eat your Skittles.

Step 5. Occasionally, Beyoncé’s marital tips may not suffice to see your relationship through. Perhaps someone has come into your life naked atop a wrecking ball, which is not only unforgivable, it’s impossible to unsee. Thankfully, we have a plethora of break-up advice to call on. In the first throes of anger, you can channel Alanis Morissette and remind your ex that their new partner is probably not going to perform oral sex on them at the cinema. Then comes the relief stage, when you dance around the lounge room, screaming along to Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ and breathing for the first time. And finally, just to be sure, you should keep Taylor Swift close by as a reminder that you and your ex are never, ever getting back together. Like, ever.

So there we have it: while highbrow music might enrich your soul, it’s not going to show you how to find love or deal with its loss. What would you prefer: to get smart or to get lucky?

Nikki Lusk, aka the Book Tuner, writes a regular column for The Guardian Australia matching classic Australian novels to music.


  • Scarlett Harris

    It’s interesting how most of the songs you referenced are hip hop or influenced by black culture. Rapper Questlove recently wrote a six part series for Vulture about the fate of hip hop and rap and how that style of music has infiltrated the pop music market so that these days pop music means “black music” a lot of the time.
    I love me some pop music, but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it “lowbrow”. To me, truly “lowbrow” music is gimmick music: “Who Let the Dogs Out”, “Because I Got High”, “Gangnam Style”… (Again, all non-white examples.)


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