The song was written by Steve Mac, Wayne Hector and Ed Drewett. It was first premiered during the band's Spring 2011 tour, where many fans assumed it to be the first single from Battleground. The song kicks off with a thumping electronic beat, as Tom's raspy vocals come in: "You're in control, pressing pause on my heartbeat...". During the chorus, the band sing: "I know it's a little bit frightening, we might as well be playing with lightning now-ow-ow." Band member Tom Parker said of the song, "We all felt it was a sound like we've never done before. It's the perfect prelude to the album, and a great song to get you in the mood for a party." The song premiered on mainstream radio on 17 September 2011. Band member Max George said of the song, "It was only really meant as a filler track. Something to keep the fans interested on the weeks leading up to the album release. We never knew it would be so successful."
A positive reception came from "CBBC Newsround" who rated it four out of five stars. They went on to say that "The verses aren't that catchy, but the chorus will get you humming in a lightning flash!." They also said that "the rousing singalong chorus is well worth waiting for." Another positive reception came from Digital Spy's Lewis Corner, who rated it four stars out of five and wrote that "[...] The five-piece croon over a cool 'n' catchy melody more addictive than snacking on a tube of Pringles in front of the telly." [...] "The results are strikingly similar; once you pop, you shamelessly can't stop no matter how much you try."
The band performed the song live for the first time during the results show of the 16 October edition of The X Factor. They also made a special appearance on the Strictly Come Dancing Halloween Special to perform the song, on 30 October 2011.
The music video for "Lightning" was director by Matt Stawski. The video was filmed in LA, and premiered on 22 September 2011, via The Wanted's YouTube channel. The video features the members of the band performing during a rave, in a similar fashion to their "Glad You Came" video. The video is set at night, and also features many explosions and kissing scenes.