Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag” Lyrics Meaning  

“Teenage Dirtbag” has a more compelling backstory than most songs we’ve thus far come across. Wheatus is from Long Island, an area found on the outskirts of New York City which is in fact, well, a pretty-long island. By and large, this part of the state is considered to be a suburb of the metropolis, and some sections, which are actually closer to NYC, are somewhat reminiscent of the city itself. 

But other segments of the island, further off into Suffolk County for instance, are somewhat unique or, perhaps more amply described considering the narrative at hand, isolated. For instance Northport, from where Wheatus originated, appears to be a beautiful, very well-to-do town with an interesting historical background. And due to parts of L.I. such as this one also being sparsely populated, there is notable bushery around.

A Murder in Northport

Unfortunately for Northport, it was the site of an infamous killing in 1984 whereas one teen took the life of another in the name of Satan. And according to Brendan Brown, who was 10 years old at the time, said incident occurred ‘behind his house’, i.e. in the vicinity of where he and his family were living.

When the perpetrator of this crime, one Ricky Kasso, was caught, he was wearing a T-shirt promoting AC/DC, who are rockers of controversial content in and of themselves. And this was during an era in American history in which such questionable media, including the likes of devil-referencing rock musicians and even Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games, were coming under a lot of scrutiny. 

Well it just so happened that Brendan himself was a fan of AC/DC, Metallica and other bands that were the recipients of such criticism. According to his own account, authority figures proceeded to perceive him accordingly.

The Lyrics

None of the above is explicitly present in the lyrics of this song. But that would logically be at least part of the reason that Brendan, who is the vocalist, is referring to himself as “just a teenage dirty” who “listen(s) to Iron Maiden”. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily read as if he perceives himself as such. Instead, he is relaying that sentiment from the perspective of others who for instance look down upon fans of heavy metal music.

And as presented, this would include even some of his own peers and agemates who view the vocalist so. That is to say that his self-abasing lamentations are largely put into a romantic context. Indeed as far as the first two verses are concerned, the subjects of the passages are respectively Noelle, the apple of his eye and her boyfriend. 

It is implied that the both of them are much more prominent on the high school food chain than the vocalist himself. So as for Noelle, Brendan is basically convinced that she doesn’t even know he exists. And the same is also fundamental true for her tough-guy beau, as the vocalist believes that “if he knew that truth” about Brown fancying his girlfriend, he would promptly proceed to kick his behind.

So this is obviously a story being relayed from the viewpoint of a young man suffering from low self-esteem. However, it does end on a positive note. This is because seemingly the vocalist is able to at least convince Noelle to attend an Iron Maiden concert with him. Or as implied, he comes to realize that they are kindred spirits. She is also “just a teenage scumbag” which, all things considered, would mean that also noticeably digs heavy metal music, despite the negative stigma attached to such an affinity.

Lyrics of Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag"

In Conclusion

So at the end of the day, as relatively-orthodox as this track may be, arguably the best way to define it is as a love song. But as lighthearted as it may conclude, there is definitely some serious psychological stuff going on here. The narrative illustrate how the self-image of young people can be negatively affected when they go against mainstream ideologies.

That said, it should be noted that Brendan B. Brown has said whenever you hear him sing the words “‘I’m just a teenage dirtbag”, he is basically saying a big f— you to all his distractors.

Brendan B. Brown talks about "Teenage Dirtbag"

When was “Teenage Dirtbag” released?

Wheatus is a band originating from Long Island. The band can more or less be defined as a one-hit wonder. And that one hit in their discography is in fact “Teenage Dirtbag”, the group’s debut single, which came out on 18 July 2000. And as such this song can be found on the band’s initial album, which is an eponymous effort that was made public through Columbia Records.

Wheatus is still around to this day, though only one of its original members, vocalist Brendan B. Brown, is still down for the cause. To note, he is credited as the sole writer and producer of this song. At the time “Teenage Dirtbag” was dropped, he was backed by the following:

  • Rich Liegey
  • Peter Brown
  • Philip A. Jimenez

Success of “Teenage Dirtbag”

This song proved to be a chart topper in Australia, Austria and Belgium. It also reached number two on the UK Singles chart and seventh place on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay list stateside. 

Additionally, “Teenage Dirtbag” charted in approximately 20 countries overall. It has also achieved triple-platinum status in both the UK and Australia.

Part of this song’s popularity is attributable to the fact that it has enjoyed regular pop media usage throughout the years. The earliest of such usages appears to have been in the film “Loser” (2000) starring Jason Biggs. 

In fact the music video to this track, as assembled by director Jeff Gordon, is based on said flick (including the stars of the movie appearing therein).

Moreover, this track has gone viral as recently as the writing of this post (i.e. August of 2022), on TikTok of course. And the way users are utilizing it on said platform is to show how they looked like during their puberty years.

Teenage Dirtbag

Some More Interesting Facts

The version of this song you hear on the radio may not be lyrically identical to the original. Why? This is because “Teenage Dirtbag” is known to be censored in such instances.

Weezer is on record as covering this song during their live performances, and in fact many listeners are mistakenly under the impression that they are the ones who originated it. 

This tune has also been covered by the likes of the following:

  • Phoebe Bridgers
  • One Direction
  • Sza 
  • Ruston Kelly
  • First to Eleven
  • Walk off the Earth
  • Gabrielle Aplin
  • 5 Seconds of Summer

In 2020 Brendan Brown set about re-recording “Teenage Dirtbag”, as well as the entirety of Wheatus, alongside his concurrent bandmates.

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