From a brief Google search, it seems that the genre of “Pumped Up Kicks” is unclear. It is defined as indie pop, alternative indie, pop dance, psychedelic pop, and more combinations of those and similar terms.

Indie and alternative are sort of broad sweeping terms. Indie, on one hand, has little to do with the actual sound of the music. It typically refers to music that is produced independently. Alternative comes from a similar root of independent production within the rock genre. According to one source, alternative is a “catch-all term” that can encompass songs will all different sounds, but they all fall outside of the mainstream realm. The primary focus is on music–though no distinct style–over content.

Taking into account the variety of designations Foster the People and “Pumped Up Kicks” have received, it seems that they are within the broad indie category with elements of pop and alternative rock.

It is difficult to discuss the characteristics of this mixture of genres, as they are not really genres in the sense of being “characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.” However, I think typical conceptions about the genres are very different. Indie pop is usually associated with being light and fun in both content and music, which might be related to the psychedelic, upbeat tune of “Pumped Up Kicks.” Alternative rock, on the other hand, is thought of as being darker or more serious in subject matter and with heavier instrumentals (not present in “Pumped Up Kicks”). It’s possible that Foster the People borrows from both genres in this song, which is what some say gives it its strength.

In interviews, Mark Foster, writer and singer of the group, has said that he was surprised that the song took off like it did. However, some believe that the ironic mix of light, airy music with such a dark topic makes the song unique and memorable, both within its “genre” and in mainstream music. Interestingly, well-known alternative rock bands Weezer and the Kooks have covered the song and have also served as inspiration for Mark Foster. So while the band seems to identify with the alternative rock genre, this particular song has elements of alt pop with it’s dance and psychedelic music and delivery.