Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” was released in 2010, though it took a couple years for it to become a hit. Since then, it’s been plagued by accusations that the song glorifies school shootings. Foster The People frontman Mark Foster has combatted that perception since it was released, saying that it was written from the perspective of a mentally ill teenager and is meant to condemn gun violence.
In a new interview with Foster that was published as part of Billboard’s decade-end coverage, he says that the band has considered retiring their popular song because of the conversation that surrounds it. “I can’t ask other people not to play it live, but the public made the song what it is — and if the song has become another symbol for something, I can’t control that. But I can control my involvement in it,” he said in the interview.
“I wrote that song in eight hours, and for me it wasn’t necessarily more special than any other song,” Foster told Billboard. “The thing that made that song special was the public, and the fact that people thought it was special, and it resonated and it created a conversation. And I’m proud of the conversation that it created. But now I’ve been very seriously thinking of retiring the song forever.”
He reflected on the school shooters that have apparently identified with “Pumped Up Kicks” over the years, saying:
…Shootings have continued to happen, and I feel like there are so many people that have been touched, either personally or by proxy, by a mass shooting in this country — and that song has become almost a trigger of something painful they might have experienced. And that’s not why I make music. At some points I do make music to bring awareness to something, but I make music to connect with people, and I feel like the awareness that that song brought and the conversation that that song brought, that’s been fulfilled. We’re still talking about it 10 years later. It still gets brought up.
And I’ll tell you, that kid… what was his name, the Florida shooter? Nikolas Cruz. I read his journals, and he was talking to some journalist and he said, “Listen to ‘Pumped Up Kicks’.” And there was a shooting in Brazil where the shooter had made “Pumped Up Kicks” their anthem.
He also talked about a time that the band chose not to play the song at a festival in Las Vegas near the anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest shooting that took place in 2017:
We played Life Is Beautiful in Vegas a couple of years ago and it was a massive crowd — I think it was 50-60,000 people at our show — and it was very close to the anniversary of the [Route 91 Harvest festival] shooting in Vegas and we opted out [of performing the song]. I was like, “I don’t want to play the song here, it’s just too much, it’s too dark. We’re in the place where this happened.”
And so we ended the show with “Hey Jude,” and we did this collaboration with Cirque du Soleil and they came out and did this whole big thing and it was really beautiful — it was one of the most beautiful moments of my career. And after we were done, I said goodbye and we walked off stage and there was a large group in the crowd of people chanting, “Pumped Up Kicks.”
The whole interview with Foster is quite interesting — you can check out the full thing here. He also says that if he were to rewrite the song today, he thinks it has too many choruses. Does it?