The Problem With... Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks"


When I visited the East Coast a few years back. I heard an interesting phrase pop up over and over again in conversation: "I see you!" No, it wasn't any of that Na'vi, love-and-understanding crap. 

"I see you," in this case, means "I see through you and your ulterior motive."  


Since its release all the way back last year, Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks" has steadily crept up the charts this summer. That's not altogether surprising. The track sounds like the band made it to butter up listeners with evocative trends. 

It's like they walked up to a slot machine of various trends, pulled a lever, and somehow came up with "sneaker-motivated violence" as the subject for their catchy, whistle-and-clap pop that resembles a Peter, Bjorn & John song. 

Frontman Mark Foster has a couple of ad jingles in his portfolio, so he knows how to charm audiences with a hook and evocative theme. It's worked through this summer, but I "see" Foster. To me, the dissonance between the upbeat instruments and dark subject suggests the writers of this track are more apathetic than creative. 

The lyrics sound similarly cluttered. Take this line the second verse: "And they say your hair's on fire / You must have lost your wits" I'd let the line slide if Phoenix or Bjork wrote them, since English is not their first language. But, y'know, Foster the People are American, so I can't. 

And, as such, I can't get behind "Pumped Up Kicks," which sounds more like a calculated jingle than a track. If this catches on, we're probably gonna hear pop songs in the near future that allude to once-popular gadgets like Razor scooters or Heelys roller-skate shoes. 

All I know is that I'd hate to be remembered for writing the "shoes" song. This guy knows what I'm talking about.
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81 comments
Hannahjoyisreading
Hannahjoyisreading

I knew someone would dis this song. The lyrics are NOT cluttered, but rather quite clear. The first verse: Robert's got a quick hand. He'll look around the room -- he won't tell you his plan. He's got a rolled cigarate hangin' out of his mouth. He's a cowboy kid, yeah. He found a six shooter gun in his dad's closet hidden in a box of fun things and I don't know what. But he's comin' for you, yeah he's comin' for you. The kid, Robert, is a shady guy. He's started smoking. While looking through his dad's stuff he found a box containing the gun, possibly the cigarettes, and a few other things that he found interesting. Now he's coming after everyone who bugged him. The line "pumped up kicks" refers to a shoe made by Reebok. You pumped them up if you needed extra boost. The part "...better run, better run, outrun my gun" is him taunting potential victims. The second verse is about his abusive father.

Gamer
Gamer

Shut up, grammar nazi. No one gives a shit.

Triplehappiness
Triplehappiness

It is pretty lame to write, "what have YOU wrote"  Duhhhhhhh!

Milsom08
Milsom08

Wow! What an idiot. He coudnt have been farther from the truth. He actually thought this was a song to advertise fucking shoes.

Feversfevers
Feversfevers

Think this song is brilliant comment on violence in society, especially on guns in schools.  I the lyrics are poetry and I am 60 year old grandma.

Skullkid214
Skullkid214

This song is about a kid that wasn't popular or rich and lived with an abusive father. He killed the other kids out of envy. Read behind the lines not just about the shoes which were the expensive starter pump shoes in the 1990's :o so yeah.

zinger
zinger

Sounds like jealousy to me.

Gnarlk
Gnarlk

jealous of overplayed turdwater

MissMysterious
MissMysterious

What this blog should have been about is how do the survivors of Columbine feel about a happy tune being put to such a tragedy? Darrell Scott is a motivational speaker against bullying because his sister - Rachel Scott - was the sweetest person on Earth, and was victimized at Columbine.  I was offended by the song at first - although it is catchy, I wish it wasn't such a perky melodic line. 

As for those people who are talking about shoes, you're probably all young and have never even heard of these tragedies - so please read into them and learn something.

Silversurfer166
Silversurfer166

I like the song, it's catchy.  Thats the1st song in years I've actually bought on cd.

LeeMILBY
LeeMILBY

The "jingle" aspect and colloquial American English language is what gives this song its body. The juxtaposition of light-hearted pop-beat and serious subject matter enters the heads of people to send a sober message-- serves up a little dose of reality to a number of listeners who ordinarily wouldn't give a flip about the affects of bullying on teenagers or the minds of troubled kids.

Jnl1211
Jnl1211

Youre an idiot. You obviously didn't listen to the words. Its about a kid flipping out and going on a killing spree.

old man
old man

I dont care what it is about as much as finding out which song they ripped off in making it.  I am 43 years old and when I heard my son listening to it I instantly knew the song, though I cannot name it.  I am no music expert but the chorus is a rip off of an older song. Of that I am convinced.  Someone has to know it.  Ive searched the Internet a little and no luck so far. 

Incognito
Incognito

Just came across this article, and while I can appreciate what you're saying about someone just writing to sell something to the masses, I can't help but notice that when you address the lyrics you completely pass over (completely miss?) the point of the song.  I'm not a huge fan of the song myself, but the kid talking to the cigarette about its "hair" being on fire is pretty funny to me.  After perusing the comments, it seems like I'm not the only one who thinks you are a bit blank.

jgrifflc
jgrifflc

Blue Suede Shoes is also not about the shoes. So no, I don't think that Carl Perkins or Elvis Presley know what you are talking about. Especially because both are known for far more than that song. 

Cawaazy
Cawaazy

You may be jealous or something.  That song is very cool!

symsewa
symsewa

Are you a dumbass? If you want to be taken seriously as a music critic, do some damn research before you start bashing. The song isn't about shoes. Other people have already provided the meaning, so I won't repeat. Man, this article is a joke. 

And seriously, criticizing a song because of its grammar? Half the songs in modern day music could have been written by 5 year olds and they seem to be doing just fine. You didn't even take the lyrics in their full context. Either be an English critic or a music critic and stop trying to be a smartass.

kaat1220
kaat1220

@symsewa And people like you are why there are so many songs that sound like five year olds could have written them.  No, the English does not have to be perfect in every song, but many of us are tired of writers who can't even write a proper sentence.

Elric
Elric

Petticoat Junction , no doubt . These guys are turd burglars . 

Chimpanzeenator
Chimpanzeenator like.author.displayName 1 Like

Really deep lyrics. In fact, phantastic lyrics.Really awful tune. In fact, really awful tune.

Cole Roberts
Cole Roberts

you sure i see you is related to this? I'm pretty sure its a portal 2 joke

Fuzzybunnypie
Fuzzybunnypie

I love that song and then i thought about it and looked up the columbine shooting and i have cried every time i hear that song

Msector23
Msector23

This author is an idiot. The song has nothing to do with foot wear. What a dumb a$$.

Nickolaismith
Nickolaismith

check this link to hear the similarities of this song and the Petticoat Junction song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Cawaazy
Cawaazy

Sorry, I don't see the similarities myself.

code red
code red

There may or may not have been an influence, but it's downright daft for you to claim you hear no similarities.

Nickolaismith
Nickolaismith

The song was stolen from a late 60's TV show called Petticoat Junction.  The main melody of this song was taken from the beginning melody of that TV show.

Jacob doo
Jacob doo

Why does some dbag always have to read into songs? I mean come on it just good music! So what he talks about kill other kids! I'm 30 and if I. Kill a bunch of people I couldn't blame it on tv or radio! Kids don't kill cause songs or tv tell them to. They do it because they think its only way to stop kids who act like they better then u! Grow up and take the song for what it is music! If u don't like it don't listin!

Julian Green
Julian Green

I never realized what they were singing about until now, now I don't feel comfortable listening to the song anymore....

Laura Dobbins-Lemons
Laura Dobbins-Lemons

"The lyrics sound similarly cluttered. Take this line the second verse: "And they say your hair's on fire / You must have lost your wits" I'd let the line slide if Phoenix or Bjork wrote them, since English is not their first language. But, y'know, Foster the People are American, so I can't." 

WOW your quote here... YOU ARE AN IDIOT! Do your freakin' research before you write about something again!

Here are the lyrics and I will give you the meaning since you are too stupid to figure it out on your own! K??

In the beginning of this verse (that you didn't listen to IT'S quite obvious) here is what is said:

"Daddy works a long day.He be coming home late, yeah he's coming home late.And he's bringing me his dark surprise."

(Dad works late and comes home mean and mad - the suprise eludes to him possibly becoming violent)'Cause dinner's in the kitchen and it's packed in ice. 

(ummmm his dinner is packed on ice - BEER duh - so it's again obvious that he gets drunk every night and well prolly beats his son)I've waited for a long time.Yeah the sleight of my hand is now a quick-pull trigger,

(ya know earlier in the song when he found a six shooter gun in his dads closet??? well he is now using this on his DAD)I reason with my cigarette,And say your hair's on fire, you must have lost your wits, yeah.

(Well, he just shot him in the head (hence the "your hair's on fire" and "you must have lost your wits" means that he can't beat him, verbally abuse him anymore")

NOT ROCKET SCIENCE here dude! Just do some freaking research!

MissMysterious
MissMysterious

Well said. At least someone knows how to break-down a song correctly.

Laura Dobbins-Lemons
Laura Dobbins-Lemons

I totally disagree with your entire article.  This band is very upfront about the song and what it's all about.  Try actually researching what you write about.  Mark F. has done numerous interviews where he explains why he wrote the song.  Their first album have many many great songs with amazing lyrics (if you have even listened! just sayin') and Mark himself wrote EACH and every track. JMO!

Tha Dude
Tha Dude

I think it a great low fidelity tune... Low fi rocks! Need more music like this and best coast...

Jayne
Jayne

The song is just overall boring IMO. Although I'm not a hipster so I guess I'm not really the target audience. 

Layla
Layla like.author.displayName 1 Like

I am certain that you and I are listening to a different song. That, or you're a moron. It's like you skipped the entire meaning of the song and instead focused on one random bit. I'm confused as to if you fell asleep during the song and only remember the part about the shoes or listened to the edited version and was to lazy to google and figure out what words the bleeps were.

Laura Dobbins-Lemons
Laura Dobbins-Lemons

LMAO! Totally agree.  I was reading this article and thinking to myself "really?"!!!

Jim H
Jim H

From the mouth of Mark Foster in a Spinner magazine interview:'Pumped Up Kicks' is about a kid that basically is losing his mind and is plotting revenge. He's an outcast. I feel like the youth in our culture are becoming more and more isolated. It's kind of an epidemic. Instead of writing about victims and some tragedy, I wanted to get into the killer's mind, like Truman Capote did in 'In Cold Blood.' I love to write about characters. That's my style. I really like to get inside the heads of other people and try to walk in their shoes.

HatePumpedUpKicks
HatePumpedUpKicks

Exactly!!  all you people singing it and saying "oh what a nice song!" are IDIOTS.  If you are a parent who lost a child in Columbine, or other school/mass shooting, you would not like this song.  This is a song that is glorifying a Kid who has issues, and kills other KIDS!!!  It is not a good song. 

Veronica John
Veronica John

I dont think it glorifies it.  The lyrics are about a bullied kid that has thoughts of shooting up his school like others have.  Just referencing something doesn't mean you're glorifying it.  It's something that needs to be talked about.  It is about 2 of the major issues that school kids are facing.  Bullying and violence.  Both need to be talked about.

Laura Dobbins-Lemons
Laura Dobbins-Lemons

EXACTLY... Love it (sarcasm) when a columnist writes about something and never actually does their research! It's a shame, because a lot of people take these types of write ups as "truths" and don't really form their own opinions!

kaat1220
kaat1220

@Laura Dobbins-Lemons Are you related to Mark Foster? Because you are taking this article way too seriously and getting so upset. I think you are reading too much into this guy's article. He is not saying that he does not get the song's message. He has a problem with the mechanics and lyrics of the song. The shoes comment is not saying that he thinks the song is simply about shoes. It was a joke. Like it or not, years from now, many people who unfortunately don't pay attention to lyrics will call it the "shoes song." Because a large part of the listening public won't get it. This is why you had so many parents in the 80s waving "Frankie say Relax" t-shirts along with their kids without any knowledge that the song was about masturbation. As I said, while I do have some problems with the song, I do like it, and it IS good to see that people are at least discussing the lyrics and its message. However, too many of you just accept a song, accept the message, but lose the objectivity to criticize it.

Neesa <3
Neesa <3

This song doesn't have much to do with shoes. The phrase "Pumped up kicks" was brought along before foster the people. This song is about how 'Robert', much like the song writer, was picked on for not being wealthy and having less then the other kids. He, 'Robert', was a very depressed young man and just seeing those shoes made him 'pull his trigger'. This song also isn't pop music, it indie. Indie music expresses people thoughts though good music, and is played mainly for the purpose of spreading their emotions and not intended to make people feel and act the way they do.This song is for our entertainment, not a movement. Although it does bring up the facts of how bulling someone can negatively affect their actions. So go back to an old saying an "don't judge a book by its cover."

code red
code red

 It's not pop music?? LOL, keep dreaming.  Btw, FtP are on a major label, not an independent one.

Nikkie
Nikkie

So true so true. Just heard this song an hour ago and I'm in love with it. This is the anthem for all the bullied kids out there. Except the shooting part. Lol

Cole Roberts
Cole Roberts

I go by the saying "don't piss of really anyone because they might lose their sh!t and shoot up a school"

Oogaligoogali
Oogaligoogali

Did this guy listen to the song? Did he not get the part about out running a gun and bullets? Why would he think it was about shoes?

Jeremy Ward
Jeremy Ward

what, you can't come up with ANY other meaning to "your hair's on fire" than the literal one?  Geezus.  Give these guys a break.  I do think it's an unabashedly pop tune built to make some money, but still, it's got hooks for days.  Could use a bridge or if there was one, I didn't notice and on second listen, it seem sparse.  The lyrics are not bad at all; kinda short but then again, like the other guy said, WHAT HAVE YOU WROTE?   

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