The context in which “Pumped Up Kicks” was written is one that seems familiar today–gun violence, specifically in the context of school shootings. The song was written in 2010. School shootings were not a new phenomena at that point, as the United States has a long history of gun violence at an elementary, high school and college level. And at the same time, some of the more prominent school shootings we talk about today had not happened yet, such as Sandy Hook and Parkland. According to Wikipedia, there were 12 major documented education-related shootings in 2010. Broadening the scope, there were 8 deaths from mass shootings in general that year.

It was an interesting time for a song about this topic to take off. In 2011, it peaked at #2 on the Billboard chart. Although none of the most infamous school shootings or mass shootings happened that year, the song still rose to success. Many popular songs dealing with gun violence do not take on school shootings specifically, so there doesn’t seem to be much precedent for “Pumped Up Kicks,” at least in mainstream music.

In an interview, Mark Foster, writer and singer of the band, said he did not intend to write the song about school shootings, but the lyrics just came to him. In other interviews, he has said the topic of gun violence was something he thought about a lot, especially after reading about it frequently in the news. When he released the song, he wanted to create a dialogue about the issue and talk about what drives a child to do this. While the song might not be connected to a particular movement intentionally, it does aim to raise awareness about possible signs in children who might commit violent acts.

As the song was not written in response to a particular event, the lyrics are more vague. However, one line that stands out to me is “Yeah found a six shooter gun / In his dad’s closet hidden oh in a box of fun things.” In an article in the Washington Post, out of 145 school shootings between 1999 and 2018, 80 percent of the adolescent shooters got their weapons from their own home, or from a friend or relative. In that line and the first verse, Foster describes a boy finding a gun in his house and plotting to shoot his classmates. Later in the song, the boy’s father is referenced again, implying some kind of poor home life. This all aligns with the reality of many school shootings. Knowing this background information, as Foster must have when he wrote the song, gives further insight into the specific details of the song.