high-key

or highkey or high key

[hahy-kee]

What does high key mean?

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In slang, high-key is the opposite of the more commonplace low-key, or "secretive" or "restrained." So something high-key is "intense" and "out in the open." It's often used as an adverb for "very," "really," or "clearly."

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Examples of high-key

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Examples of high-key
Sex is great n all but have you felt that one feeling after finding a song that you couldn’t remember the name of? Thats the best feeling ever highkey
@MarchosEche21, November 2018
The place I lived up in Georgia in high school—I was in the forest...Like high-key, middle of nowhere, no cars type shit. It was really peaceful and serene...
Chester Watson quoted by GFarmaNews, October 2018
Me.me

Where does high-key come from?

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High-key is a technical photography term for  particularly bright lighting style. It’s been in use since the early 1900s. Before then, in the world of music, sound, and public speaking, high-key denoted notes with a high pitch, with evidence dating to the 1800s.

These days, the slang high-key is used a bit differently, though it may draw from notions of “bright” and “pitch” as in the term’s historical senses. First came the slang low-key, for “casual” or “on the down-low,” in the late 2000s. It was being used as an adverb—e.g., “I’m low-key into her,” to express mild interest—by the 2010s in hip-hop lyrics.

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High-key functions as a natural opposite to low-key: characterizing something done with intensity, energy, or calling attention to itself.

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An early instance comes in the 2013 song “3 The Hardway” by rapper Young Roddy:

Spend on smoke what these niggas spend on for the whole Key
Low key, or High key
Drop a piano on your head if you try me
Or Young Roddy fly in the Maserati

It was likely Drake, as with so many slangs terms in the 2010s, who helped popularize high-key on Nicki Minaj’s 2014 track “Only”:

Yeah, low-key or maybe high-key
I been peeped that you like me, you know?
Who the fuck you really wanna be with besides me?

Who uses high-key?

High-key is common in hip-hop lyrics, even as the title of some songs, such as R&B artist’s Che Ecru’s 2016 “HIGHKEY.”

But it has spread to mainstream youth slang, where it can be used as an adjective for “intense” or “overt” (e.g., “The party was high-key”) or as an adverb for “a lot,” “very much,” or “obviously.” (E.g., “I’m high-key about this new Ariana Grande single”)

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