Ranking the Cinematic Uses of “Dirty Little Secret”
This piece originally appeared in Paste Magazine.
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.
3. The 7th minute of John Tucker Must Die (2006)
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.
1. The 85th minute of John Tucker Must Die (2006)
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.