When looking into the lineage of “Pumped Up Kicks,” I searched for more songs related to gun violence specifically related to school shootings. I was not sure what I would find, as the song was not clearly written about a specific event or part of a movement at the time it came out.
The first possible lineage I came across was a series of songs about school shootings written in a similar style as “Pumped Up Kicks.” I was surprised to find other songs written from the perspective of a young person thinking about committing a mass murder.
The first song I found like this dates back to 1979. The song is called “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Irish rock group The Boomtown Rats. This song was written about a famous school shooting in which a girl shot students walking into the school across the street from her home. The lyrics are written in an extremely similar style to “Pumped Up Kicks,” with lines like: And nobody’s gonna go to school today/She’s going to make them stay at home.
Next in this lineage, I came across song called “Lullaby for Wayne” by Weezer from 1994. This song’s lyrics are more ambiguous, not referencing a specific event but still creating a similar scene. It definitely has a similar tone and narrative style, with lines such as: Playing with your guns all day/If only they could see you now. I found this song especially interesting as Weezer is one of the band’s that inspired Foster the People, so there could be a very direct connection between the songs. To tie up this connection, Weezer has actually covered “Pumped Up Kicks” during concerts.
I think this particular lineage offers a lot of insight into the idea behind the song: revealing the perspective of the killer. While the songs have slightly different topics, they all have similar tones and narrative story lines. This lineage shows the longer history of using music to grapple with this situation.
In a more recent lineage, one song that comes up is a song written by Kesha about gun violence, called “Silence.” The lyrics are very emotional: When I’m walking through the halls/I don’t wanna be brave/I just wanna be safe. Kesha’s inspiration for writing this song is similar to that of Foster’s. She expressed feelings of hopelessness after seeing so much violence in the news, specifically following the Parkland shooting.
Another more recent song in this lineage is Burt Bacharach’s “Live to See Another Day,” in which he sings: Our lives mean something more than pain. Bacharach, a songwriter with a history of engaging in political discussion, also wrote the song in response to the frequency of school shootings happening in 2018. Like Kesha and Foster, he wrote from a place of frustration, and he wanted to put out a warning to acknowledge the situation.
The songs in this lineage are similar not only in their content, but in their inspiration and writing process. Each of the artists wrote the songs themselves with clear intentions of spreading their message and raising awareness. I think this lineage reveals how Foster’s idea has grown even more in recent years, and other artists are being called to speak out through their music.