Everybody wants to be a teenage dirtbag — on TikTok, at least.
“Teenage Dirtbag,” the 2000 hit song by Northport rock band Wheatus, has gone viral on the social-media platform. Celebrities from JoJo to Joe Jonas to snowboarder Shaun White have joined a trend of posting homemade videos of themselves followed by several teenage snapshots — all accompanied by the song’s catchy chorus. You can find contributions from Lindsay Lohan, Gwen Stefani and even Steve Harvey by searching TikTok with the hashtag #teenagedirtbag.
What TikTokkers might not know is that the upbeat rock song has its roots in a Long Island murder case, according to Wheatus singer-guitarist Brendan B. Brown. In the summer of 1984, 17-year-old Ricky Kasso stabbed a friend to death in Northport’s Aztakea Woods. At the time of Kasso’s arrest, he was wearing an AC/DC T-shirt — the future Wheatus founder’s favorite band — and subsequent media coverage of the story fed into the “satanic panic” of the 1980s. The moral reaction centered around scores of unsubstantiated cases of satanic ritual abuse in the United States in that decade, as well as public scrutiny on satanic- and occult-related content in heavy metal music and role-playing games.
“Ricky was a dirtbag,” Brown told Vice in a November 2021 video, noting that he saw the appellation used in a Rolling Stone article about the killing. “He would have been called a dirtbag before the murder. That was what, like, people who listened to AC/DC and Iron Maiden and all that stuff, that’s what they were.”
Brown fashioned his song into an innocent teenage fairy tale, the story of a heavy metal misfit who can’t get the attention of a popular girl — only to discover that she wants to take him to an Iron Maiden concert. (The video starred Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, both of Amy Heckerling’s 2000 film “Loser,” which featured the single.) With its Weezer-style guitars and power-pop chords, “Teenage Dirtbag” became a minor classic of the post-grunge era, peaking at No. 7 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.
The nostalgia factor might explain the song’s popularity, though who started the trend — and why some videos include a sped-up version of the track — is hard to say. What’s more, “Teenage Dirtbag” seems to have cross-generational appeal. Among the younger celebs to hop on the trend are Zach Gordon, 24, and Victoria Justice, 29, while those on the older side include Madonna, 64, and Chevy Chase, 78.
Many celebrities use their posts to play up their public personas. Christina Aguilera runs through a retrospective of racy photos; Bay Shore native LL Cool J offers shots of himself in his customary Kangol cap; and comedy duo Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong show up with a video titled, “When you go from Teenage Dirtbags to LEGENDS w/your bowlmate of 50 years.”
Others use the format to poke fun at themselves. Terry Crews throws in a snapshot of himself pretending to DJ, Alice Cooper highlights an awkward yearbook photo and the comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias superimposes his face onto an infant.
A shortlist of others who have taken on the “Teenage Dirtbag” trend: Demi Lovato, Jimmy Fallon, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Bacon, “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Kate Walsh, pro NFL player Cooper Kupp and businessman-politician Andrew Yang.