Foster the Problems



Incorporating a mixture of catchy choruses, rhythmic guitar riffs and high-pitched pop vocals, Foster the People is a shining example of how to make a dynamite indie rock record. On the surface their music seems innocent. However, their lyrics paint pictures that can often oppose their upbeat dance melodies. It is exactly those oppositions that lead to enormous misconceptions and misinterpretations regarding their music.

Consider the songs, “Best Friend,” “Waste” and their mega hit “Pumped up Kicks.” They each sound like a jingle that you might hear in an Apple commercial (their song “Don’t Stop” actually was featured in a Nissan ad). It is easy to gloss over the words because you find yourself dancing to every beat. The reality is that each of those songs discusses very serious subject matters which should not be ignored.

“Best Friend” suggests the difficulties of trying to support a friend who is struggling with drug addiction. The issue is that when you hear the song, often it is only possible to distinguish the opening line of the chorus, “When your best friend’s all strung out.” This leads people to write the song off as promoting drugs and watching your best friend as he or she is under the influence. It completely flips the meaning of the song.

Similarly, the song, “Waste,” is often misunderstood based on its main line, “Every day that you want to waste…you can.” I admit that the first time I heard it, I thought it promoted spending an entire day being lazy in your house without worrying about anything. It actually takes on a much more beautiful meaning when you see that the speaker is talking to his loved one who has to deal with severe mental issues and is often too depressed to leave the house. He is assuring her that he will be with her no matter how down she gets.

Lastly, “Pumped up Kicks” is the most popular song they have and also the most controversial. The lead singer, Mark Foster, has defended the song stating that it is his attempt to try to understand the minds of troubled youth. Other people I know turn off the radio when it comes on because, in their minds, the song is about the Columbine school shooting. No matter which interpretation is correct, the song gets people talking about the issue and that is what makes it so powerful.

It is easy to turn on the radio and hear a song, but it is hard to listen to one. Before you shun an entire band for one line, take a moment to dig a little deeper and discover the motivations behind the lyrics. It might surprise you.