The song's lyrics were written by Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon and the vocals are shared on the track with backing vocals provided by the London Community Gospel Choir. The line "Tender is the night", and by extension the name of the song, is a reference to the novel Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. During Coxon's hiatus from the group, Blur continued to perform the song live with Albarn asking the audience to sing Coxon's lines; "Oh my baby/Oh my baby/Oh why?/Oh my". At Blur's headline appearance at Reading Festival in 2003 he introduced the song by saying "I don't want, for one moment, to be a sentimental but... Graham wrote this song as well... you know the bits he sings and I want you to sing them as loudly as you possibly can. Everyone needs to sing this song." In July 2009 when Blur reformed, Coxon's lines in "Tender" were repeated and sung powerfully by the audience to call Blur back to stage at Glastonbury, Hyde Park and T in the Park.
The video for the song is a live studio performance, filmed in black-and-white, featuring the band and a group of backing singers. Like Blur's earlier video for End of a Century, it does not use the studio version's audio track. An official video for this track was recorded by Sophie Muller (director of the promo videos for "Beetlebum" and "Song 2"), but it was never released as the band simply didn't like it. Initially, the track "Swamp Song" was slated to appear as one of the single's B-sides, but was promoted to the parent album 13. The appearance of "Song 2" on the single was a last-minute substitution. A remix of the song by Cornelius was released on the "No Distance Left to Run" single.