Though this song, like a number of others on Dear Science, is an angry diatribe against the system, TV on the Radio sugared the pill with upbeat dance rhythms and beats. Guitarist and songwriter Kyp Malone told MTV News: "It's just not wanting to write a song about complaint, basically. About these things that are sh--ty in the world and trying to present something optimistic... taking some actual responsibility to make the world someplace we want it to be. And we can do it with dance!"
The lyrics to "Heartbreak Hotel" were written by a steel guitar player who was once a dishwasher repairman. He was inspired by a newspaper story about a man who killed himself and left behind a note saying only, "I walk a lonely street."