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Behind the Meaning of “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People

May 30, 2023
pumped up kicks meaning

“Pumped Up Kicks” is a popular song by the American indie pop band Foster the People.

The song was released in 2010 and quickly gained widespread popularity, reaching the top of the charts in several countries.

Despite its upbeat melody, “Pumped Up Kicks” lyrics tell a much darker story about a troubled youth contemplating a school shooting.

The song’s lyrics have generated much discussion and controversy, with some interpreting it as a commentary on gun violence and mental health, while others criticize its portrayal of violence and glorification of the shooter.

This article explores the meaning behind “Pumped Up Kicks” and examines the various interpretations of the song.


According to Foster, the entire track accurately represents the problem of mass school shootings in the United States.

When he wrote the song in 2009, he believed that the country’s response to these shootings would continue to worsen rather than improve.

“Pumped Up Kicks” was essentially a plea to Congress to implement stronger gun regulations to prevent future school shootings.

This song is performed from the perspective of a young man named Robert.

He is an outcast at school, has few friends, and feels increasingly lonely.

This has long been a concern, and the emergence of the internet and social media has tremendously impacted society, particularly among the youth.

As a result, Foster claims that many problematic teenagers (and adults of all ages) have an inner monologue in which they consider violence.

“Pumped Up Kicks” was initially intended to be from the perspective of a possible victim, but Foster modified it so that listeners could hear Robert’s perspective.

Speaking in an interview on Los Angeles radio station KROQ in 2011, Foster said:

“I kind of wrote the song to bring awareness to the issue. That sort of thing keeps happening more and more in our country; it’s kind of turning into an epidemic.”

Song Retirement

Although there is no direct violence in the lyrics, Foster still feels uneasy performing “Pumped Up Kicks” in many scenarios.

The song came from a place where he would wake up every day and witness another tragedy in the news.

It doesn’t always feel suitable for Foster, regardless of how many fans clamor to hear it at festivals or concerts.

The artist has gone back and forth on whether “Pumped Up Kicks” is directly about school shootings.

He claimed that the song did not directly relate to school shootings and that people misinterpreted it by adding their ideas.

He argued that it is more about the mental state of problematic youth.

Still, based on his comments about the song’s success, Foster understands why many people associate “Pumped Up Kicks” with school shootings.

What surprised him the most was the track’s success and the fact that many were surprised when they discovered what it was about.

Foster wrote and recorded this powerful song in just 8 hours.

He has stated that he wants to retire from the track permanently due to the ongoing violence.

When asked about what things he would have changed about the song if he could go back in time, Foster said, “I would have cut some choruses”.

Why Title the Song “Pumped Up Kicks?” & What’s Up With the Shoes?

The famous chorus, “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks / You better run, better run, outrun my gun” led people to wonder – what are pumped up kicks?

Some speculate that Foster is referring to the Reebok Pump basketball sneaker, which was popular in the 1980s and 1990s.

When wearing the shoe, you could physically pump it up to get a better fit.

This sneaker peaked in popularity in 1991 when Dee Brown of the Boston Celtics won the Slam Dunk Contest wearing them.

The Reebok Pump was also quite expensive then, with an initial retail price of $170.

Even if the song isn’t about the specific Reebok Pumps, it could be applied to any expensive trainer that only the wealthier kids’ parents could afford. 

Who is the Fictional Character (Robert) in The Song?

Robert is portrayed as an outcast with a complicated relationship with his father.

Robert’s got a quick hand.
He’ll look around the room but won’t tell you his plan.

Yeah, he found a six-shooter gun.
In his dad’s closet, and with a box of fun things
I don’t even know what
But he’s coming for you, yeah, he’s coming for you

He discovers his father’s gun and bullets in his father’s closet and fantasizes about spinning it around like a cowboy while smoking a cigarette.

“You better run, better run, outrun my gun.”

Robert can only imagine and play with the thought of all the other children running from him. 

The lyrics also imply that he has no idea how to use the gun. 

Instead, he’s being bullied at school and fantasizing about his dark vengeance.

Members of Foster The People had experienced being bullied and feeling isolated at school.

Foster admitted to being bullied as a teenager, while Cubby Fink, the band’s bassist, had a family member who was schooling at Columbine High School during the 1999 tragic shooting.

Misinterpretation of the Warning and Foster’s Plea

According to Foster, “Pumped Up Kicks” warned against school violence.

However, many parents in the United States felt that the track glorified tragedy.

Multiple school shooters have referenced the song, but that is not what Foster intended.

This is one of the reasons he no longer enjoys performing it.

For him, this song serves as a platform for discussing mental health with teenagers and encouraging them to be open about their lives and feelings.

According to Foster, musicians have always had an eye on society and provided their perspective on how things are in the world.

He noticed that the children who brought firearms to public areas were getting younger and younger with time.

He was curious about what these kids were thinking at such a young age to want to commit such acts of violence.

Has Anything Changed?

Though we hoped that “Pumped Up Kicks” would spark conversations and legislation to reduce school violence, that has not necessarily been the case.

School shootings continued to rise after the song’s debut and have shown no signs of being eradicated any time soon.

This is one of the reasons Foster The People has retired “Pumped Up Kicks,” as the band believes the song failed to achieve its purpose.

On the other hand, the lives of Foster and his band have changed.

“Pumped Up Kicks” was released before their debut album, Torches, on May 23, 2011.

The album was a huge success, and the band released two more albums, Supermodel (2014) and Sacred Hearts Club (2017).

They’ve also recorded a few singles, but “Pumped Up Kicks” have been the most successful.

Cool Facts About “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People

It was the first single to top Billboard’s Alternative Songs and Dance Airplay charts, contributing to the song’s success.

The song was never released officially. 

Cubbie Fink, the bassist for Foster the People said, “We were a brand-new band, and that was the only song we had completed, so we put it up on our website for download, and from there, it had a life of its own.”

It got tossed around the internet, people blogged about it, and it ended up on Hype Machine, and radio just picked it up naturally.

The song was removed from the airwaves following the December 2012 shooting of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Mark Foster agreed with the decision to pull the song out of respect for the victims, noting that he composed the music during the growing trend of mental illness among children to spark a discussion about the need for change.

You may also like: Songs With Deep Meaning

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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