Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks (Lyrics Review and Song Meaning)

Pumped up kicks maybe a thing of the recent past but Foster The People’s hit single is still a cultural icon after 9 years since the release. “Pumped Up Kicks” was the band’s debut single and became a hit sensation all around the world. Why? Because it is a catchy pop track with a theme of revenge that any teenage kid can relate to. Let’s explore…

“Pumped Up Kicks” was released on October 14, 2010, as Foster The Kid’s debut single from their first studio album ‘Torches’ released in May 2011. However, the song was not officially released as a single; band’s bassist Cubbie Fink once told that they “put it up on our website to download, and from that, it had a life on its own.” The song caught the upwind and landed on radio stations and on singles charts in the US and UK, charting at #3 and #18 respectively.

Foster The People’s frontman, Mark Foster began composing the song as a solo project and later on inducted Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius onboard the band. In an interview with Spinner UK website, Mark Foster explained the meaning behind the song;

‘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.”

Despite the dance-tastic beat and recurring chorus, the song encompasses the dark mindset of the kid who is left out of society. “I was trying to get inside the head of an isolated, psychotic kid,” says Mark Foster in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2011. He continues; “It’s a f–k you song to hipsters, in a way – but it’s a song the hipsters are going to want to dance to.”

Watch “Pumped Up Kicks” Music Video by Foster The People

What are ‘Pumped up kicks’?

‘Kicks’ is slang for shoes, usually sports shoes. ‘Pumped up shoes’ were basketball shoes popularized by the popular shoe brand Reebok. The shoe had a ‘pump’ button on the tongue of the shoes which could be pressed to pump the shoe to get a little extra lift when jumping. The shoe’s mainstream success came when basketball player Dee Brown pumped his shoes just before his victory at the 1991 Slam Dunk contest. Watch the video below.

This took Reebok’s pumped shoes to a new height of popularity and price tag. The shoes were unaffordable to the average kid who had to resort to cheaper options such as Keds or Converse. Hence, the song takes on the mindset of such a kid isolated from the rest of the group who wore Reebok’s pumped up shoes or Nike’s Michael Jordans.


Check out ‘Reebok Pump’ Shoes on Amazon

From the first verse itself, Mark Foster narrates the story of Robert, the kid who is coming for revenge from the rich kids. Worst of it all, he has found his dad’s gun. The ‘gun’ had been intended to be a metaphorical object for vengeance but in the storyline, Robert plays a cowboy kid. And a gun is a must for a Cowboy.

There are many references to the usage of the gun throughout the song. Mark Foster says that Robert has a ‘quick hand,’ which is a reference to the speed of drawing the gun out of the holster as seen in cowboy face-offs. In the chorus of the song, there is a clear warning from Robert to the other kids to outrun his gun and faster than the bullets he is about to shoot at them. It is also noteworthy how the POV changes from the third person in the first verse to the first person in the chorus and the second verse, implying that the singer does get into Robert’s mindset as the song goes on.

In the second verse of “Pumped Up Kicks,” Mark Foster lets us know that Robert would never be able to afford those expensive Reeboks. Robert’s father works long hours to make ends meet. They seemed to be having leftover food from the previous meal as Robert speaks of frozen food in the kitchen. Robert could be waiting every day for his ‘surprise’ gift: pumped up kicks. But his daddy cannot simply afford them and Robert is losing his patience. His hands get accustomed to the trigger of his father’s six-bullet pistol. It looks as if Robert is drawing in on insanity because of his isolation from the rest of the kids…

The song was pulled off from air after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Mark Foster agreed with the decision and spoke about the incident with CNN; “I wrote ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ when I began to read about the growing trend in teenage mental illness. I wanted to understand the psychology behind it because it was foreign to me. It was terrifying how mental illness among youth had skyrocketed in the last decade. I was scared to see where the pattern was headed if we didn’t start changing the way we were bringing up the next generation…”

What do you think about this hit track by Foster The People? Do you agree with the decision to take it off of air as a means of removing a motivator for gun violence? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Adam McDonald

Hi! I am the founder and lead author and editor of Justrandomthings music community. A vast range of personal interests from Hip-Hop to Country to Hard Rock and Punk music will keep you entertained.

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2 Responses

  1. Anton says:

    I can understand the sensitivity to the lyrics in the midst of such a horrific event. I feel that talking about what leads up to such tragedies is needed. It is great needed! Obviously this is a mental health and social issue. (This does not imply that mental health is the catalyst for violence!) As a youth I was an outcast in school. Kids tried to bully me so I often got into fights. That being said I can understand the feelings of alienation due to factors beyond the child’s control. That being, unable to afford expensive clothing for social validation. That doesn’t excuse the actions of the individual.

    Honestly, if teenage mental health was taken seriously and teachers were very strict about the consequences for bullying, there would be a better environment for the children as a whole. Noone should go to school with the fear of being killed or bullied.

    • Adam McDonald says:

      Hi Anton,
      Thanks for the valuable comment and I totally agree with your point.
      However, if we jump into this person’s shoes, we probably can see that he is on the receiving end of violence at the moment (in the form of bullying). We are all human and kids are especially vulnerable to external factors. Hence, it cannot be helped but all this violence will be internalized by the kid. His deflective skills are not developed as much as of an adult. Once all this violence is internalized, it should be expelled by some means. It could expel in the form of violence or an erosion of the kid’s mental health itself, which would in turn result in some sort of violence in the long run.

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