First things first: if you don’t remember “Teenage Dirtbag” or Wheatus, the band that wrote it, let me refresh your memory:
CUZ I’M JUST A TEEENAAAGE DIIIRTBAAAG BAAABY! YEAH I’M JUST A TEEENAAAGE DIIIRTBAAAG BAAABY! LISTEN TO IIIROOON MAAAIDEN BAAABY WITH ME!
That’s the one.
Wheatus released “Teenage Dirtbag” in July 2000 as the title track from their debut album, and it got constant play on MTV and the FM rock stations all summer long. It’s a power pop anthem that combines the brattiest, most adolescent aspects of Cheap Trick with a mid-tempo shuffle and some of the mindless experimentalism that marked post-grunge (yes, there’s turntable scratching). Brendan B. Brown’s vocals fall somewhere between Robin Zander at his most nasal and “Sk8er Boi”-era Avril Lavigne, and the song oscillates between gentle acoustic verses and big, driving electric choruses. It appeared on the soundtrack to the 2000 Jason Biggs vehicle Loser, which I know you’ve got in your collection.
The narrative is familiar teeny bopper territory: A high school dork is in love with a popular girl, and all he wants is to listen to Iron Maiden with her, but “she doesn’t know who I am and she doesn’t give a damn about me.” She has a typical jock boyfriend who would beat the shit out of the protagonist if he found out about the poor kid’s crush, but the gun-wielding, IROC-driving alpha-male is oblivious. Prom night rolls around and our hero’s alone, without a date, contemplating how awful life is, when — lo and behold — his muse walks up and presents him with two Iron Maiden tickets. “Come with me Friday, don’t say maybe,” she utters, and the rest is history.
In a different life, I find this song daft. It’s the kind of one-hit wonder from my youth that I expect other people my age to ridicule as a relic from a time when the fate of rock n roll was so unclear that labels were signing anyone who seemed cooler than the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.
But that’s just not how I feel. I respect this song, and it boils down to this: I thought Brendan B. Brown was a woman.