Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” a hazy, fuzzy track with that immediately identifiable creeping bass line, became an unexpected summer smash this year. The groove was infectious and stood out in a season dominated by dance singles. But what was so surprising was the dark message played out in the lyrics.
While early fans of the tune latched on to what sounded like a cheery chorus, it often took a second or third listen for them to consider what the L.A. trio were actually saying: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks/ You’d better run, better run, outrun my gun,” FTP frontman Mark Foster sings on the hook.
MTV correspondent Sway Calloway moderated a spirited roundtable discussion with some of our very own experts: James Montgomery and Rob Markman (MTV News), Yomi Desalu and Malika Quemerais (MTV Music and Talent) and Tamar Anitai and Nicole James (MTV.com). The panel managed to narrow down the Best Songs of 2011, with “Kicks” besting top 10 tracks from the Throne, Chris Brown and Katy Perry.
“You listen to it and you like the beat, and then you listen to the lyrics and you’re like, ’Oh my God, what is this about?’ ” MTV News senior writer James Montgomery said.
” ’Kicks’ is really about bullying, and the tragedy that bullying produces … if that kid retaliates in a nasty way; both sides end up being harmed,” Foster told MTV News over the summer.
“I like to tell a different type of story, lyrically, than what the music is expressing, because it brings another layer to the story itself,” he added. “I wrote it a block away from the beach, and I was working at a music house — Mophonics, a place where I composed for ads and stuff — and I think that had some influence on the sound.”
“It was one of those songs that you heard everywhere. It was catchy as heck. You haven’t really gotten too many songs in the last couple of years that stand out in such a major way on the rock side and the top 40 pop side,” Yomi Desalu, of MTV’s Music and Talent team, said.
The success of the song certainly took the band by surprise. “We like the song, but we had no idea it would spread around the world the way that it has,” Foster admitted.
Summer may be over but the song still proves contagious, ranked as the #4 most popular tune in the U.S. on popular social networking site Spotify as well as one of the top 10 Most Shared Songs of 2011 on Facebook.