Once you listen to Pumped Up Kicks, you may notice a dark undertone in the peppy lyrics, but who is the song about?
While Pumped Up Kicks references a shooter named Robert, the track is actually hinting heavily to the Columbine Massacre. Although it’s never directly confirmed, there are lyrics in the song that directly point to the notorious 1999 high school shooting.
Read on to learn more about Foster the People’s track, and the deadly shooting it refers to.
All The Other Kids
When Pumped Up Kicks first aired in 2010, it was considered a sleeper hit. It was the debut single for Foster the People and was an instant success. It stormed to the number one spot on charts worldwide and was played non-stop on mainstream radio.
You can listen to this song below, on a video taken from YouTube.
However, the upbeat and lively vocals and rhythm hide a sinister message. When you listen properly to the lyrics, you’ll understand that they’re telling the story of a school shooter. In the song, the ‘lead character’ steals a gun from his father and practices with it.
Although the song never references an actual shooting, it is stated that it’s the desire of Robert, the lead, to commit one. The song takes multiple perspectives, opening in the third person, then switching to the third-person perspective. It’s an interesting blend and gives us an insight into both sides of the story.
There’s one line in particular that almost undeniably links to the Columbine Massacre of 1999. This line, coincidentally, also makes up the title of the song. In the track, it goes: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you’d better run, better run, outrun my gun.”
The investigations following Columbine revealed that the two shooters had original intentions to target ‘jocks’. The ‘pumped up kicks’ line was a reference to the sneakers that were commonplace among the sportier types in high school.
The third line of the song also mentions, “He’s got a rolled cigarette.” In many of the recovered ‘home footage’ tapes taken from the shooters, they were seen smoking cigarettes. In the opening verse, it’s written, “I don’t even know why, but he’s coming for you.” This offers further reference to the Columbine massacre: nobody truly understood why they did it.
Down In History
On April 20th, 1999, two students stormed their school and killed thirteen people. This included a teacher. They then proceeded to engage in a firefight with police, before turning their weapons on themselves. This became known as the Columbine Massacre and would go down in history.
It was the first truly terrible school shooting in the United States but by no means the last. There would be countless instances that followed, some arguably much worse. In a lot of the cases, successive shooters were discovered to have been inspired by the events at Columbine.
Foster the People’s track retained popularity as the years wore on. It also remained at the forefront of controversy, such was its content. In 2019, an article posted in NME discussed the accusations that Foster the People glamorized gun violence.
It went on to explain that the fallout was so severe that Foster the People were considering ‘retiring’ the song. The band themselves stated that the song “had become almost a trigger of something painful someone might have experienced.” In the years following the song’s release, there were some horrific school shootings.
While the song never directly mentioned an actual shooting taking place, it was close enough. There weren’t any mainstream songs quite like Pumped Up Kicks, either. It was unique in its lyrics, and in its overwhelming success, content considered.
The only thing that comes close to this track was the Boomtown Rats hit of 1979, I Don’t Like Mondays. It’s a little known fact, but this song also had a darker meaning behind it. In January of 1979, a 16-year-old girl took a rifle and fired thirty bullets at an elementary school.
When she was asked why she did it, she responded: “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays.” In the attack, she killed two people and wounded eight children, and a police officer. As of 2020, she was still in prison, and would likely remain so for the rest of her life. She was infamously dubbed “America’s first school shooter”.