Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” is NOT about Omaha

Photo Credit: Williams + Hirakawa

A pop song’s true meaning can change the way you think about it.

That’s certainly the case with Foster The People’s latest single, “Pumped Up Kicks.”

The tune is all over radio and is currently No. 2 on iTunes’ top-selling singles.

It’s an awesome groove and it’s no wonder that the song’s a hit with its simple, but groovy bassline and dreamy, melodic vocals.

But it’s a violent song.

The poppy tune includes lyrics about guns, bullets and a kid named Robert, which some have claimed is meant to depict Robert Hawkins, the gunman who killed eight and injured six people before taking his own life at Omaha’s Von Maur store in 2007.

I first heard about it when several people contacted me over the weekend to ask me what I knew. Namely, “Is it true that it’s about the Westroads shootings? That’s totally going to ruin the song for me.

So, are the rumors true?

“This is completely false. The character name in the song is just a coincidence,” the band’s publicist wrote in response to The World-Herald’s questions.

The first verse contains lines such as “Robert’s got a quick hand,” “found a six shooter gun in his dad’s closet” and “he’s coming for you.”

And then there’s the chorus: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, better run, better run, outrun my gun/All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, better run, better run, faster than my bullet.”

It’s also not about Robert Butler Jr., the Millard South student who killed his vice principal, shot his principal and killed himself. The song came out in early 2010. Butler shot up his school in 2011.

The song is violent enough, anyway, to cause MTV to ask the band to submit a version of the song without references to guns or bullets. The band complied, even though singer Mark Foster told “Time Out Chicago” that the song’s not actually about killing people.

“Kids are just getting younger and younger and losing their minds and going on killing sprees. It really was bothering me, and I was trying to figure out why that was happening more and more. I wanted to tell that story and get inside the head of a kid going crazy,” he said. “The song’s about isolation, being an outcast, and seeing the world through the character’s eyes. It’s not about him actually physically going and doing anything, it’s about his mental state.”

It seems the Internet — Wikipedia in particular — and its tendency to proliferate rumors have struck once again.

On SongMeanings.net, a poster posited that the Robert in the song might be Hawkins. An Omahan’s reply to his post said that the song is definitely about the shootings, though his only claim to holding the truth was that the poster went to high school with Hawkins.

Additional blog posts on CityUnlisted.com, Tumblr.com and even prominent alternative newsweekly Seattle Weekly all have referenced Hawkins.

Perhaps the biggest offender (and possibly the source of all of the other rumors) is the song’s entry on Wikipedia, which states “The lyrics refer to the shooter Robert A. Hawkins in the murder-suicide at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska on Wednesday, December 5, 2007.”

Wikipedia can be edited by anyone and often contains mistakes. Facts are often cited with links to other articles.

The citation next to the note about Hawkins? There isn’t one.

Watch the video for “Pumped Up Kicks” below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDTZ7iX4vTQ]

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