After the departure of their vocalist Shara Nelson, the Massive Attack trio concluded they could never replace her, so they chose to bring a new diversity to their sound with a selection of rotating guest vocalists. For their sophomore album's title track and lead single they recruited Everything but the Girl's Tracey Thorn, who penned the haunting love song's lyrics.
The song was also included on Everything But the Girl's compilations The Best Of and Like the Deserts Miss the Rain.
Michel Gondry, who helmed the song's music video, won the 1995 MTV Europe Music Award for Best Director for his work on this song. Massive Attack's Robert '3D' Del Naja recalled the shooting of the clip to The Guardian February 6, 2010: "The Protection video shoot was the most agonising by far. We were lucky to work with Michel Gondry but I can safely say it was the start of all my back problems in life. I had to hold myself for around 15 takes against a slanting wall, in freezing Paris weather. We couldn't get our heads around it until he bought this scaled-down Lego model to the pub… or was it the record company? Either way I had a drink in my hand. But you couldn't storyboard it; without the model you couldn't understand how it would work. He was a very subtle guy, not a big booming director, and had such a strong imagination you had to trust him completely. I'd love to say that idea came all from us, but as a band I guess we take comfort in the fact that he was inspired by the song we gave him."
Tracy Thorn had competing feelings after she received the tape of this song's backing track. She recalled to Mojo in 2016 her thinking at the time: "'On their one hand, 'I don't understand this at all.' On the other hand, 'I understand this completely. This is minimalism. I do minimalism. I get it.' And yet, it was being done in such a different format. I had to listen to it maybe ten times with complete bewilderment before I suddenly went, 'I know how to do this.'"
No one in Massive Attack said a word to Thorn about what they wanted from her or why she was there. "The most I ever got was that Nellee (Hooper), who was producing the record, had produced Bjork and Bjork was a big (Thorn's debut solo album) Distant Shore fan. I think that's the connection," she said.
"Massive Attack kept everything under wraps. It was always a little hard to know whether they liked what I'd done. I get the feeling that Mushroom, especially, was a little bit suspicious of why I was there. I think 'Protection' was one of his tracks. I'm not sure he was ever convinced."