Foster the People is a Los Angeles indie rock band that started off as a solo project for vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Mark Foster, who had been working as a jingle composer for commercials. As his songs became more grandiose, Foster enlisted bassist Cubbie Fink and drummer Mark Pontius. This is the band's debut single, which debuted on the Hot 100 chart dated May 7, 2011.
Mark Foster explained the song's meaning to Spinner UK: "'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." Foster says he considered writing the song from the perspective of the victim, but felt that would be a cop out. He also points out that there is no actual violence in the song, as the threats are all the kid's internal monologue.
About those "Pumped Up Kicks" the other kids in this song are wearing: In the late '80s and early '90s, the Reebok Pump basketball shoe enjoyed modest popularity. The sneaker had a pump shaped like a basketball on the tongue, and the idea was that if you needed a little extra lift, you could just give it a few pumps - keep in mind that Nike had Michael Jordan selling its kicks, so Reebok was pretty desperate. The greatest moment in Pumps history came when Dee Brown of the Boston Celtics won the 1991 Slam Dunk contest wearing the shoes. Just before his winning dunk, he reached down and inflated his Pumps, a moment that Reebok used in commercials for the shoes. The shoes were very expensive, and kids with that kind of money to spend on basketball sneakers who didn't opt for Air Jordans tended to be the privileged poseurs who annoyed the hell out of anyone wearing Converse or Keds. In this song, the kids with the pumped up kicks, or at least these type of kids, are threatened with grave violence.
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