Often, love songs look at a taken subject and encourage them to dump their significant other to instead be with the narrator. It’s something that I find difficult to deal with; sure, there are real-life situations wherein somebody is in a relationship that isn’t good for them or that makes them unhappy, and it’s fair to develop feelings and wish that you could be with the person even if they have a significant other already, but the way it’s approached in music typically feels arrogant, as well as disrespectful of the choices of a person they supposedly care a lot about.
This is part of why “Hotel Paper,” from Michelle Branch’s 2004 album of the same name, clicks so much with me. It’s a mellow, introspective song of painfully unrequited feelings for somebody who already has a significant other. Within it, Branch admits to the thought of being with the subject of the song, and even of telling them to leave their significant other, but not unapologetically so.
Opening with repeated piano chords, the song is primarily driven by quiet, acoustic guitar during the verses; in the choruses, it bursts with energy as Branch declares, “And I / I wanted to be / Giving you everything / that she’s not giving.”
But as I said, this longing is not an unapologetic one; toward the start of the song, she sings, “I’d be out of line telling you, ‘Leave her’ / So I lie lonely surrounded by you.” For some, maybe that hesitance would seem to lack emotion and drive, but to me that speaks volumes more than generic “dump your significant other” lines. It expresses that same level of desire, but with the caring and presence-of-mind to say, “This would be wrong, so I understand that I need to just deal with it.”
My favorite line comes later in the song, in the third verse: “Forgive me / if I admit that / I’d love to / love you.” Given how love is generally viewed, it seems somewhat odd to actually apologize for such a desire, but it’s understandable; if you really do have some affection for somebody, it makes sense to be apologetic about admitting that you want to be with them if they’re already in a happy relationship.
Certainly, “Hotel Paper” is not the best song to listen to if you’re looking for a pick-me-up, but it’s a great catharsis for unrequited love, and takes an approach to this situation that I don’t commonly see in music. It’s a melodic, refreshing piece that deserves some attention.