Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker explained the song's meaning to Q magazine in a 2012 interview: "'This Is Hardcore' is a bit about fame, actually... I ended up watching a lot of porn - hah! - on tour. If you get back to the hotel and you've got nothing to do, you put the adult channel on and have a look... It's the way that people get used up in it. You'd see the same people in films, and they'd seem to be quite alive, and then you'd see a film from a year later and there's something gone in their eyes. You can see it, that they've done it all and there's nowhere else to go. There seemed to be something really poignant about that to me. It seemed to be very similar to the way people get used in the entertainment business."
The song contains a sample of The Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra's "Bolero On The Moon Rocks."
The song is also the title track of Pulp's 1998 album, which was a noted change in direction from the breakthrough mainstream success of 1995's Different Class. An interview with Jarvis Cocker in The Observer in 2002 noted that This Is Hardcore the album was "darkly powerful, as good as anything to come out of the confused and confusing pop '90s. It cost Pulp a sizable proportion of their post-'Common People' fan base."
Cocker himself noted in a 2001 Mojo interview, "I think it's good. One of that record's basic themes was dealing with something superficially attractive which when you get closer to is actually quite repulsive, and I'm proud of it because it gets that across. But as anybody who's heard it would agree, it's not a record made by contented people. It's a record about disillusionment. If you're serious about what you do, how you're feeling has to come out in your music, so I'm pleased that we didn't try and gloss over it and carry on as if everything was fine. It was coming after a really big record, so there was all this expectation — some from us, but a lot from the record company. There was a lot of pressure, but this time there was no pressure, really, because nobody were arsed!"
In October 2011, the song made it onto NME's "150 Greatest Songs Of The Last 15 Years" list, at number 120.
On CD2 of the original single release, several remixes are included: the "Swedish Erotica Remix," which is just the regular vocals reversed in such a way to make them sound Swedish, and the "End of the Line Mix," which extends the violin-centered instrumental bridge from the original track into a full track of its own.