Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Is This Thing On?: 'Pumped Up Kicks'

Good morning to everyone eating breakfast in Carm! Now, I typically comment on pop music and its artists, who are sometimes more Kardashian than they are musician. Because of this, I'd like to dispel any rumors that I exclusively listen to trashy Top 40 hits. Yes, fine, sometimes The Chainsmokers appear on my Spotify activity, but it's only for "research." Today's column is about one of my favorite indie bands and their peculiar breakthrough hit.

I fell in love with Foster The People in summer 2011 after hearing "Pumped up Kicks" (2010) on Boston independent radio. The song, which would become the soundtrack for biking around my sleepy hometown and walking to the lake with friends, is not as mellow as its toe-tapping beat might suggest. A look into the lyrics reveals a darker theme: a troubled boy, Robert, who has visions of shooting his classmates. Beginning in third person, lyricist Mark Foster switches to first person at the chorus, stating he wanted to "get inside the head of an isolated, psychotic kid." Robert takes his father's gun from a "box of fun things" and contemplates his next moves.

"It forced the public to have a conversation not only about ... gun regulations, but also about art itself, and where the line is, what should be edited and what shouldn't," Foster saidEventually, I noticed some radios began muting the word "gun," likely after people caught on to the violent undertones. Foster said in a Rolling Stone interview, "It’s a 'f--- you' song to the hipsters in a way – but it’s a song the hipsters are going to want to dance to." Even the music video is chock-full of artsy beach shots, messing around the recording studio and lacing up dirty white sneakers.

Stylistically speaking, "Pumped Up Kicks" is a bit anomalous to the rest of the band's discography. It's the only song in which Foster's playful tenor is distorted to a monotonous lull. Suddenly, the chorus tumbles over with the airy vibrance of a carefree July afternoon. Even the cheerful whistling is juxtaposed with the almost unintelligible bridge, which repeats "run" over and over. The funny thing about this song is how easy it is to simply tune out the lyrics. For me, learning the meaning cast a chilling light on the seemingly blissful track, but I think it's relevant now more than ever. Perhaps this is Foster's point – if we choose to not pay attention, ignorance is the easiest response to the world happening around us. Last fall, the group decided against playing the Grammy-winning song at a festival in North Carolina a day after the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas.

Plug alert: Last semester I made a collaborative playlist on Spotify and only Arts Editor Jack Ronan added to it, but I'm going to give you all a second chance! You can find the playlist here. I also respond to Spotify User 121042873. I've included some of my favorite Foster songs, plus a few others, but I want to hear yours.