"1 x 1" was originally inspired by the stories of child migrants separated from their families at the border. When Cold War Kids released the song on May 6, 2020 amid the COVID-19 lockdown, it took on a further poignancy. Said frontman Nathan Willett: "Now that we are all quarantined, it has taken on an extra meaning... One by one each of us are staying apart to help the whole of us."
The song is a duet between Nathan Willett and The Lumineers frontman Wesley Schultz.
OneRepublic bassist Brent Kutzle co-wrote the song. As well as co-penning many of OneRepublic's hits. Kutzle also helped compose tunes for the likes of Ellie Goulding ("Burn") and Christina Aguilera ("We Remain").