The band began working on the track in 2011, with vocalist and guitarist Win Butler noting, "We recorded a little bit in Louisiana with the Haitian percussionists [Willinson Duprate and Verrieux Zile] and we kind of lived with that. It's an incredibly long process."
The track also features contributions from regular Arcade Fire collaborators, Owen Pallett and Colin Stetson, alongside legendary English musician David Bowie. Regarding Bowie's guest appearance on the track, multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry noted, "It was just after The Next Day had come out. He basically just came by the studio in New York while we were mixing, just to have a listen to the stuff we were doing. He offered to lend us his services because he really liked the song. In fact, he basically threatened us – he was like, 'If you don't hurry up and mix this song, I might just steal it from you!' So we thought, well why don't we go one better, why don't you sing on our version? Thankfully he obliged, and we were really happy about that." The very beginning of the song samples the band's first single and first song off of Funeral, "Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)"
The track's lyrical content is, in part, influenced by the differences between Haitian life and that of the Western world, with vocalist and guitarist Win Butler noting, "I think that life [in Haiti] is incredibly difficult and it's more amazing to see people that don't have access to food or clean water throw a party. It's not like I'm trying to sing about their experiences. I was more learning from what I saw and applying it to my own life, lyrically. I'm not trying to tell other people's stories. We're just trying to allow an experience to change you." Some have interpreted the song about the dangers of the internet.
The remainder of the 12" vinyl's artwork suggests that it is a full-length album by The Reflektors. A fictional album track listing, inspired by the song's lyrical content, is featured on its back cover.
The song received acclaim from critics. Rolling Stone praised it, saying "Arcade Fire are the most important band of the last decade, and the music lives up to their universe-affirming mandate. "Reflektor" turns a shared sense of isolation into communion with a sleek, surging track that seamlessly integrates arty rock and diagonal funk, breaking down [Arcade Fire]'s epic sound without scrimping on its essential cathartic thrust." American Songwriter also praised the song saying "All seven-plus minutes of the song feel absolutely vital, even if the arrangement suggests something more hedonistic. It's a neat trick they pulled there."