The intro and first single to Vance Joy’s debut EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing was a critical and commercial success. Critics praised its clever lyrics filled with pop culture references. It peaked at 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
It is a weird mish-mash of ideas. Sometimes, you know, I will try to write and stick a bunch of different ideas and images together and it won’t work and I’ll think, “oh, that doesn’t sound right” or “it sounds too weird and it all conflicts with each other,” but for some reason that all came together well for “Riptide,” and when things happen like that it is a bit beyond your control. I had a bunch of different ideas and words, it wasn’t even a general story line like I was referring to an experience or anything. It is more like a stream of consciousness. – Vance Joy
According to an interview with American Songwriter, the song remained untouched and unfinished for four years from when Vance started writing it in 2008 until 2012. During long afternoons while his roommate was at work, he would work on it bit by bit. One day after a brief trip to the store, he returned home and played the melody on the ukulele, which he built on to finish the song a few days later.