Described by Stuart Elliott in The New York Times as "an infectiously sunny tune about the affirmative powers of self-confidence," "You Gotta Be" according to Des'ree is, like all the songs on its parent album, "about having the inner strength to figure out who you are" with "You Gotta Be" specifically being "born out of me stopping myself and thinking everyday how you gotta be something. You have to be cool and calm in [one] situation, and then you have to be bold and strong in another situation." Des'ree drew inspiration for "You Gotta Be" from the Shakti Gawain book Creative Visualization which had abetted the singer's recovery from a painful romantic break-up; "I've always been blindly optimistic, and that [book] helped me rise from my melancholia," explains Des'ree who it is said "swears by daily affirmations."
"You Gotta Be" was released several times in the United Kingdom: first in April 1994, it was then re-released in March 1995 after it had become a USA top 10 hit, and in 1999 in a remixed version because of its use in the 1999 Ford Focus advertising campaign and following the success of Des'ree's previous singles "Life" and "Kissing You". The latter release of "You Gotta Be" charted in its highest position out of all three releases in the United Kingdom, peaking at No. 10. This version, entitled the "1999 Mix" was added to a re-issue of her third studio album Supernatural. The original release first charted in September 1994 in the United States and slowly climbed the charts peaking at No. 5 in March 1995, and staying 44 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. The remixed version of the song was a number one hit in Spain for two weeks, in February/March 1999.
In April 1994, it was used by Sky Movies, for their summer preview commercial. Also, in March 1995, ABC began airing an ad campaign for Good Morning America, aimed at attracting a younger demographic and also boosting male viewership, in which Des'ree's "You Gotta Be" played under scenes of "Americans immersed in morning rituals: commuters rushing, a young man shaving, school-bound children" intercut with shots of the Good Morning America hosts.
In Italy, the song became popular after it was chosen as the soundtrack of some TV adverts, including those of Breil in 1996 and Ford Focus of 2000. In Australia, circa early 2000s, this song was used in a Westpac bank advert.
A reworked version of this song was used in the Big Sing 2008. The Big Sing is to raise money for Childline by hundreds of schools singing this song at the same time across Ireland, England and Wales. If the number of children participating is big enough, the Big Sing will make it into the Guinness Book of World Records 2010.
"You Gotta Be" has been covered by Ethel Ennis on her 1998 album If Women Ruled the World, by Natalie Cole on her 2006 album Leavin', by British/Japanese singer MiChi on her 2008 album MiChi Madness, by Japanese emo band Nature Living on their album 2008 album After All. Patti Austin recorded "You Gotta Be" as her contribution to the 2003 album Church – Songs of Soul and Inspiration, with the track being included on Austin's 2011 album release Sound Advice. Ronan Parke covered this song on his 2011 debut album Ronan Parke.