How often does a band's debut single reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and get a Grammy nomination?
Almost never, which is part of what made "Pumped Up Kicks"—the first song Foster the People ever officially put out—so special when it reached the charts in 2011. When the idea of the song struck him, frontman Mark Foster was working as a commercial jingle writer, which explains the song's infectious hook. But the track also has some pretty obviously dark undertones; it's about a kid named Robert who gets his hands on a gun, which led many listeners to believe "Pumped Up Kicks" was about a school shooting.
"I think people filled in the blanks that it was about a school shooting, but I never say anything about a school in the song," Foster said in a 2010s feature for Billboard. "It's really more about this person's psyche."
But as the song grew in popularity and news of school shootings became more common, the perceived message of "Pumped Up Kicks" proved dangerous. Because of the song's connotation and ties to recent school shooters, Foster says he's debating retiring the track for good.
"it's still our most-known song," Foster said. "So it's something that I'm really wrestling with, but I'm leaning towards retiring it, because it's just too painful. Where we're at now, compared to where we were 10 years ago, is just horrific."
Foster The People - Pumped up Kicks (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Though a band retiring their biggest hit might come as a surprise, "Pumped Up Kicks" bears a gruesome weight: the shooter in Parkland, Florida, reportedly often pretended to fire a gun in his home as the song played in the background, and Foster noted in the interview that a shooter in Brazil had made it his anthem.
"Pumped Up Kicks" was pulled from some radio stations after the Sandy Hook shooting, and Foster the People have already hinted at no longer including it in setlists. They opted out of performing "Pumped Up Kicks" at Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas, around the anniversary of the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival that left 58 concertgoers dead in the same city. Instead, they closed their set with a theatrical cover of "Hey Jude."
"I'm proud that a three-minute song created so much conversation about something that's worth talking about, and I think that every artist dreams of making something that holds its value," Foster explained. "I really feel like I made the earth pause for a second and bend down to hear what I was saying. And I'm proud of that. But I think it might be time to retire it."