Music News

Foster the People Just Wants You to Dance

Conventional wisdom teaches us that hipsters love to pretend they are ahead of the curve. They shun "the mainstream," riding fixed gear bicycles to Whole Foods to buy organic produce, before pedaling their vintage-style Pumas to concerts by bands you've never heard of.

So why do hipsters love Foster the People, a band so unabashedly glitter-pop that it's hard to believe anyone would ever consider applying the "indie" tag to it? Whatever the case may be, hipsters aren't alone in their adoration of the band. Ever since "Pumped Up Kicks" became a Top 40 hit, everyone from soccer moms to teeny-boppers are being exposed to the trendy beats of Foster the People.

The band represents the latest in a string of young bands with an indie aesthetic finding a home on commercial radio. Bands like Cold War Kids and MGMT scored heavy airplay with hits like "Hang Me Up to Dry" and "Electric Feel," respectively, while major-label-backed acts with an indie feel, like Mumford and Sons, have taken their songs all the way to the Grammys.

Like those bands, Foster the People is "indie" without having to plug away in low-rent clubs for years to achieve modest recognition, as real indie bands still do. After all, the band only formed in 2009. Torches, FTP's debut, is hovering just outside the Billboard Top 10, and the fall tour is being greeted with enthusiastic response — the band's date here in Phoenix is already sold out.

The group's rapid success and quickly earned fan base flies in the tradition of indie bands who shun the typical marks of success. Is it a conflict for indie bands to have their songs featured in commercials? Does tackling Top 40 radio wipe away the sheen of DIY independence? Most importantly, does a band like Foster the People represent indie culture in any way or just the Urban Outfitted idea of indie marketing?

With pop songs so pronounced and up front, it's hard to imagine the members of Foster the People feeling very conflicted about getting noticed. Part of being in a band is getting people to pay attention, and Foster the People certainly isn't limiting its audience to "the cool kids." It's telling that in today's music industry climate, labels like Columbia (which issued Torches in a partnership with Startime International, an indie label that's teamed with majors for releases by Passion Pit and Peter, Bjorn, and John) package acts with the veneer of independence in an effort to appeal to listeners put off by the glossy pop the same label also puts out.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the music. The hooks on Torches are undeniable. "Waste" sounds like The Shins raised on a steady diet of '80s dance pop, while "Helena Beat" is a driving, distorted rocker. The light, airy falsetto of "Houdini" is effortlessly melodic. Blasting "Helena Beat" should come with a warning: It often results in sudden grooving. Hearing it in your car, you'll likely be scooting your booty in your seat. It's no coincidence that this buzz band was booked for just about every major music festival this year.

What Foster the People represents or "means" may be up for debate, but the band's achievements seem to suggest one thing for certain. The hipsters want to dance, and they don't mind all that much if the squares join in.