I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

What does "Wheels on the Bus" by Melanie Martinez mean?

What does "Wheels on the Bus" by Melanie Martinez mean?

Lyrics Meaning of "Wheels on the Bus"

Melanie Martinez’s album, K-12, tells the stories and experiences of a student named Cry Baby at a cotton-candy-colored, dystopian sleep-away school. The album has a corresponding 90-minute feature film titled K-12, and it is written and directed by Martinez herself. Martinez also stars in the film as Cry Baby. Appropriately, the K-12 album opens with “Wheels on the Bus,” since many students’ school days begin with a bus ride. This song is the start of Cry Baby’s tulle-filled nightmares.

"No one’s watching us, don’t give a f**k"

The ultimate purpose of the song is to set the stage for the general experience at the K-12 school: corrupt authority figures, ill-meaning peers, and an overall sense of “this isn’t the way things should be.” Maybe the album as a whole is a metaphor for our school systems today.

Verse 1

I’m looking out the window and it’s cold outside
There are two boys yelling behind me and I’m terrified
Counting trees as they pass me by
And I’m trying not to look across the aisle
‘Cause Maya’s letting Dan put his hand up her skirt
And she’s got her hand down his pants

Cry Baby describes the scene of unruly students on the school bus. She says she is “terrified” because of the boys yelling behind her, and she is uncomfortable with her surroundings because of the sexual activity happening across the aisle from her. She tries to keep herself distracted from the unpleasant environment by counting the trees outside her window.


I know the driver sees it
I know he’s peeking in the rearview mirror
He says nothing
Trying to ignore it
It’s f**king boring
I’m quietly observing
I’m saying nothing

Cry Baby explains that the driver knows about the inappropriate behavior happening behind him, but he is not trying to stop it. It is possible that he doesn’t care enough to be inconvenienced by chaos in the back of the bus, but Martinez’s use of the word “peeking” in the second line suggests that he could also be watching the inappropriate behavior on purpose for some kind of guilty gratification. Cry Baby is still trying to ignore everything going on around her, but she says “it’s [getting] f**cking boring.” She is used to it at this point.


No one’s watching us
Don’t give a f**k
Wheels on the bus
I’m holding it down
Up in the front
Wheels on the bus

Cry Baby feels let down by the indifference of the authority figure on the bus and says that she “[doesn’t] give a f**k.” The lyrics “wheels on the bus” come from a nursery rhyme many are familiar with that says “wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round,” which could be Martinez’s way of saying that she observes this kind of behavior all the time. It goes on and on — ‘round and ‘round — and never changes or stops.

Verse 2

Well, I’mma light it up and pass it
Puff, puff, and pass it
Don’t be a d**k and baby say, “Come on, just pass it over here”
Counting cars as they pass me by
And I’m trying to not look at all behind me
Because Jason’s got his a** on the glass
And I hate him, driver hit a bump fast

Cry Baby now has to light up in order to make her surroundings more bearable. She continues on to describe the conditions on the bus getting worse as another student on the bus “moons” the cars that pass by. Cry Baby still tries to ignore the lewd behavior of the other students, but she comes back around to the chorus again to express her disappointment in the authority figure on the bus and his inability to enforce a reasonable expectation of behavior.

Deeper Meaning of "Wheels on the Bus" by Melanie Martinez:

“Wheels on the Bus” is the opening track for the K-12 album. It begins the telling of Martinez’s experiences interacting with questionable characters in her life and the lessons she’s learned through those interactions. She tells about these experiences through the metaphor of a dystopian school. In this song, Martinez paints a critical picture of various peers and figureheads in her eccentric fictional world and explores themes like respect, authority, sexuality, and coming-of-age.

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