The song and Adina Howard's hypersexual image are considered groundbreaking in the US R&B/hip hop scene. The song portrayed a female hip-hop singer as being aggressive rather than coy in her sexuality, but in a manner that was feminine unlike the female hip-hop artists of before who dressed in men's apparel to express their aggressive image (i.e. MC Lyte). This new, hypersexual image would pave the way for upcoming R&B/hip hop female artists like Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim; in addition, it allowed other artists to become more comfortable in releasing more explicit lyrical content that could not be associated with their previous images. Examples of this are Toni Braxton's "You're Makin' Me High" and Monifah's "Touch It".
This version of the song uses the backing track of a 2001 bootleg mash-up by English producer Richard X, titled "We Don't Give a Damn About Our Friends", which he created under the alias "Girls on Top". The Sugababes version of the song, itself a new version of "We Don't Give a Damn About Our Friends", was sampled from Gary Numan and the Tubeway Army's "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and used the radio edit lyrics of Howard's song ("brotha" is used instead of "nigga"). Numan was now credited as a co-writer of the song. Richard X produced the mash-up without the permission of the copyright holders of the songs by Adina Howard or Tubeway Army, but it became a successful underground dance track. After failing to gain permission to use Howard's vocals for a commercial release, the Sugababes were chosen by Richard X to re-record them.
The sound effect featured at the beginning of the song is the coin-insert tone from the popular 1981 video game Frogger. (The sound was also used to begin the song "Froggy's Lament", about the video game itself, on Buckner & Garcia's album Pac-Man Fever.)
The song received rave reviews from music critics. It was released as the first single from the album, in the spring of 2002 and reached number one in the United Kingdom (where it sold over 275,000 copies), number two in Ireland, and number four in Norway.
In 2012, The Guardian named "Freak like Me" as the best number-one single of 2002.NME complimented the track as "genius" and claimed, "if this gets to number one, we'll be grinning all summer. Yes, even the Critics."
On April 22, 2002, "Freak like Me" was released in the United Kingdom. The song became Sugababes' first number-one single when it debuted at number one in the UK Singles Chart, remaining in the top ten for four weeks. It remains one of the best selling singles released by the group, selling over 275,000 copies since its release and being certified Silver.
Outside of the United Kingdom, the song was also successful. While it reached the top ten in Ireland, Norway and Belgium, the song entered the top 30 of most of the charts it appeared on. In Australia, "Freak like Me" became the fourth single by Sugababes to make the singles chart, reaching number 44. It would be their lowest-charting single in Australia until the release of "Shape" in 2003.
The music video was directed by Dawn Shadforth and Sophie Muller and was filmed in London. It uses the We Don't Give a Damn Mix of the song, which is more faithful to the original mash-up. The video is set in a strange nightclub, and acts as an introduction for the recent addition of Heidi Range. It begins outside the nightclub with a man tumbling down the stairs, with Keisha Buchanan in a long coat, seen only from below the knee, walking out of a door, over the man's body and up the stairs. Mutya Buena is seen standing on the stairs facing the direction where the man is lying. Inside, they spot Range dancing and flirting with many guys. They both quickly clash with her, and a fight between them ensues, which ends with Range falling to the floor unconscious. A man tries to help her up, but Buena grabs him by the neck and throws him away from her. Range wakes up again soon after, and stumbles out of the club with another man, where they begin to kiss, until she suddenly bites hard into his arm. Meanwhile, Buchanan takes a man outside, and she leads him into a dark alley, where they flirt briefly, before she scares him away. Buena then goes outside as well, and overpowers a man who towers over her. The music video ends with Buchanan and Buena accepting Range into the group, and dancing into the night. The demonstrations of supernatural strength shown throughout the video and Range biting the man on the arm are generally understood to imply that the women are, as the song suggests, vampire-like "freaks". Julian Morris stars in the music video as one of the boys running from Buena.
In The Story of Tracy Beaker episode "Music", Adele is singing part of the first verse of Freak Like Me in her bedroom when Tracy approaches her and compliments her voice and asks if she could also be in the band Adele is auditioning for.