Before the real estate bubble burst, and before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the All-American Rejects were accepted by Hollywood. “Dirty Little Secret,” the first single from the band’s sophomore effort, Move Along, dominated radio stations in the summer of 2005. It was constructed like a simple carbohydrate. There were four saccharine choruses and only two verses, and the power chords belonged on Abercrombie bags. By August 2005, the song debuted on the big screen. Within a year, it was a staple on teen movie soundtracks.
“Dirty Little Secret” was palatable pop-punk tailored for turn-of-the-century teen movies. The genre had moved away from its R-rated roots to meet mainstream demands for modesty. PG-13 movies couldn’t depict sexual intercourse with an apple pie and the songs in PG-13 movies couldn’t describe sexual intercourse with dogs, moms and pirates. “Dirty Little Secret” peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and even reached school cafeterias with a “Got Milk?” campaign called “Dairy Little Secret.” Milk mustaches were modest.
Yet, the song’s impact in movies still reigned. So, here are the top five uses of “Dirty Little Secret” in film.
Britney Allen promises to never cheer again when she moves to Crenshaw Heights, which is a pretty big deal. The Pacific Vista cheerleading team holds a farewell ceremony to bury her pom-poms on the football field, but Britney unearths the pom-poms against the wishes of her replacement. The disinterment foreshadows Britney’s eventual decision to break her promise and cheer for Crenshaw Heights. The Pacific Vista team busts Britney when they spot her in the background of a local news report about the Crenshaw Heights cheer team. B-R-I-T-N-E-Y. You ain’t got no alibi.
“Dirty Little Secret” is used when the three pettiest members of Pacific Vista go to a Crenshaw Heights game to confront Britney. They condemn her betrayal and then Brittany’s replacement starts studying with Britney’s boyfriend behind her back. That affair, in particular, would have provided a juicer context for the song.
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo incorporates crime elements to experiment with the franchise’s formula. The film’s antagonist is a prolific serial killer who targets male sex workers. While vacationing in Amsterdam, Deuce Bigalow stumbles into the heroic role. He comes out of retirement to stop the carnage and meets a ragtag group of gals along the way. For all of the disrespect directed towards Bigalow, in the end, he’s well endowed where it counts: the heart.
“Dirty Little Secret” appears twice in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. The first appearance anticipates the introduction to the killer and the second anticipates the unmasking of the killer. The song is ineffective in establishing the gravity of either situation though, and the immediate context of each appearance isn’t compelling because the commodification of sex is incompatible with the sophomoric romance of “Dirty Little Secret.”
John Tucker practices non-monogamy in different cliques. He trusts that the social blockades between lunch tables will ensure that his three girlfriends never speak with each other. It’s a fragile arrangement that requires a sixth sense and steady hands, and John Tucker socializes with surgical precision. He dedicates a carefully calculated amount of time to each girlfriend at school. He dishes the cheerleader a few dollars for her fundraiser. He signs a petition for the free spirit. He licks bake sale frosting off the valedictorian’s finger. And he high-fives adoring fans.
“Dirty Little Secret” paces John Tucker through the hallways and its lyrics become the scripted sweet-nothings that he recites for his girlfriends. The weaponized chorus plays over and over to assure each girl that she’s the one and only dirty little secret. The montage of John Tucker’s scumbaggery is a delightful visual complement as well.
Viola assumes the identity of her brother, Sebastian, to prove that she can play soccer with the boys. She disguises herself with sideburns and a $20 Justin Bieber wig that a smart shopper would’ve bought the day after Halloween when it was marked down. She wraps her chest and rarely showers and gets tangled in a love triangle too. The charade culminates in the biggest soccer game of the season against Viola’s ex-boyfriend. Her team paints their faces like 13th-century Scottish warriors and the team captain belts a Braveheart speech.
“Dirty Little Secret” kicks off the game. The kinetic fuzz of the instrumentation scores the in-game action while the lyrical content fades to the background. The sonic marginalization of the lyrics represents the progress Viola has achieved in her fight for equality. She flashes the stadium to prove her identity and finishes the game as herself, scoring the winning goal on a kung fu kick. The performance even reunites her divorced parents.
The conspiracy to kill John Tucker takes a multifaceted approach to revenge. First, the free spirit tricks John Tucker into modeling for a genital herpes PSA. Then the cheerleader replaces his protein powder with estrogen. Neither works. So the alliance of ex-girlfriends decides to break John Tucker’s heart. They mold Kate, an anonymous nobody, into John Tucker’s dream girl. They document the relationship as John Tucker genuinely falls for Kate and they air the embarrassing footage at John Tucker’s birthday party. The machinations of revolution are petty, evidently.
The second appearance of “Dirty Little Secret” concludes John Tucker Must Die. The conspirators forge a friendship that transcends cliques and John Tucker introduces honesty into his non-monogamy. The smog of deceit finally dissipates as the credits roll. It’s a just resolution to the Tarantino-on-Nickelodeon revenge plot, considering castration would’ve bumped the MPAA rating to R.
The credit placement lends “Dirty Little Secret” an omnipotent relevance, rightfully. Pop punk music was made for teen movies and “Dirty Little Secret” was made for John Tucker Must Die.