From the Archives: The Secret Meaning Behind Foster the People’s Hit Single ‘Pumped Up Kicks’


A few months ago, Foster the People released the lead single off of their upcoming album Torches and so far it has been getting stellar reviews and massive radio play, even charting on the Billboard Hot 100. For three boys from Los Angeles, this might not seem like a big deal, but according to the song’s writer and band frontman Mark Foster, they are just happy to be getting their message out there. “Enough is enough, you know?” Mark told us in a phone interview. “I had to write something catchy enough to gain popularity, but subtle enough to get our message across. I think we did a great job.” Maybe not as good as he thought, as the meaning of the song has been hotly debated since its debut.


For those who are still unsure what the secret meaning behind ‘Pumped Up Kicks,’ don’t fret, we’re here to fill you in. Now, you have likely already seen articles and think-pieces about the song claiming that the meaning of the lyrics refers to a school shooting. More specifically, Columbine. While this is a common interpretation and makes sense with lyrics like the following, it is not correct. That said, you can see where the confusion comes from.


Example A: First verse

Yeah, he found a six-shooter gun
In his dad’s closet, in the box of fun things
I don’t even know what
But he’s coming for you, yeah, he’s coming for you


Example B: The Bridge

Run, run, run, run
Run, run, run, run, run, run
Run, run, run, run, run, run
Run, run, run, run
Run, run, run, run, run


Example C: And of course, the Chorus.

All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You better run, better run, outrun my gun
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You better run, better run, faster than my bullet


Sounds bad, right? This is likely due to the fact that, no offense, you’re an American (we assume). As Americans, we have become so desensitized to gun violence that any mention of ‘guns’ or ‘six-shooters’ makes us think the worst. In reality, the entire song is an homage to the iconic 2003 film, Holes, which deals with guns to an extend, but not in the way suburban moms across the country believe that ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ does.


Let us break it down for you. So, first verse, when he talks about finding a ‘six-shooter gun,’ he is actually talking about a particularly stinky pair of shoes. If you’ve seen the film, this makes sense, as Stanley’s father is constantly working on a recipe for something to alleviate the smell of smelly feet. ‘Six-shooter gun’ is a common metaphor for a particularly stinky pair of shoes in the cobbler industry and Foster’s reference here shows a depth of knowledge rarely found in mainstream pop.


Moving on to the bridge, where he says the word ‘run’ 25 times in a row, this is obviously a reference to when Hector smacks the shit out of Dr. Pendanski with a shovel and runs into the desert. Again displaying his vast understanding of ‘Holes,’ Foster knew that it took running 25 miles straight to get to God’s Thumb where Hector would find sanctuary. The 25 ‘runs’ represent each mile in the desert.


Finally, the chorus. You may think that this part can’t possibly be about the sensational film Holes, but again you would be wrong. After all, what was the inciting event of the entire movie? Hector throwing a pair of ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ over the edge of the bridge, leading to the wrongful arrest of Stanley. So, when he says ‘Outrun my gun’ and ‘Faster than my bullet,’ he is saying that even if you want to be like the other kids with cool shoes, reality will come for you like the rest of us. Sometimes, in the form of a bullet. Other times in the form of a camp where you dig holes all day.


Pretty cool, huh? Personally, we can’t wait to see what other webs Mark and the Foster boys can come up with on their new album. We hope they talk about other great films from that era, like Shrek or Donnie Darko.


Thank you for tuning into this edition of From the Archives. Tune in again soon!





This was written by Nathan Ellwood, who hopes you are enjoying your time on Earth for however long that lasts. Follow him @NPEllwood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s