Are nerds always outsiders? Are the two synonymous? Not necessarily. To use Morrissey as a (largely metaphorical) example, versus another archetypal slice of outsider/nerd/misfit music, Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, it seems obvious to me that music – above all other media, in fact – is capable of articulating degrees of outsider/nerdy-ness. Take Creep. Rock track, big guitars. Rode the grunge wave for a bit. Big shouty chorus with simple words and a simple tune, and pretty big signposts pointing out when the chorus was coming up. In other words, you can sing along, in the clubs, at the gig. Hell, wave your lighter in the air if you want.
But listening to ‘How soon is now’, or ‘This charming man’, or whatever, is completely different. Morrissey’s lyrics and melodies are shaped to be pretty unrepeatable (as a whole): certainly without spending a bit of time analysing and reviewing. You don’t tend to get the communal sing-along chorus. They don’t scan easily, or commend themselves to memory naturally: ‘I’m a creep/I’m a weirdo’, vs ‘I would go out tonight/but I haven’t got a stitch to wear’…
So your Radiohead/’Creep’-type outsider actually finds community in ‘Creep’. It suggests participation, shared experience. Morrissey-type outsiders are more likely to find a personal, private pleasure in his music – and thus resist communalism. The relationship is one-on-one.
To be slightly less MOR about this, I’d suggest this is a big difference between Dizzee and the Streets – some kids at Charing Cross last night were swaggering round yelling ‘Fix up, look sharp’ at each other. Can you imagine the same thing with the Streets’ ‘Be brave my apprentice/stand tall, clench fists’?