Fifteen years ago Monday, the world had a song bestowed upon it that would change the course of music by lowering the level of discourse in the world of pop punk to its nadir. If you are of a certain age, you will remember the heyday of pop punk, a brief period of time when it took over music around the turn of the millennium. After the surprise success of Blink-182’s 1999 Enema of the State, pop punk, the logical endpoint stemming from The Ramones adding some melody to punk, became the music of the moment. It still has its champions, but those are increasingly hard to find in the mainstream. And that’s the fault of “Teenage Dirtbag.”
You may remember this song well. Wheatus was a one-hit wonder, and, of all the pop punk songs that became hits, “Teenage Dirtbag” is the worst, and we are well aware of the discography of Avril Lavigne. “Teenage Dirtbag” is worse than “Sk8er Boi” or any other song you want to throw out. Also, Lavigne basically just made pure pop music anyway.
Let us set aside the fact that the lead singer of Wheatus had a whiny voice. Let us set aside the instrumentation, as well, which isn’t terrible, to be honest. The problem with “Teenage Dirtbag,” and the reason it synthesizes everything that was wrong with so much of pop punk so definitively, is the lyrics.
The story is as simple and insipid as it gets. Our protagonist is the titular teenage dirtbag. To what extent he is a dirtbag, we will never know. We do know he listens to Iron Maiden. That’s about it. Iron Maiden, of course, being a heavy metal band whose music has nothing to do with Wheatus’. Anyway, this guy loves some girl from afar, he doesn’t think she knows who he is, and her boyfriend is a jerk.