Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan explained the song's meaning in the album's accompanying track-by-track commentary: "I realized listening to 'Orchid' that it's a distant commentary on what happened to the bands of the '90s. The song even has a bit of an homage to Alice in Chains in the harmonies. Alice in Chains is one band that I appreciate so much more now than when we were all in the same competitive streak. I also thought a lot about Kurt Cobain and what we'd all been through as a collective unit and the battle-scarred feeling of that. I wondered about what our contribution was as a generation. I'm close to Courtney Love. I know the negative ramifications of that time. I see what she goes through, and the ramifications on [Love and Cobain's daughter] Francis Bean. Everybody can talk about the Kurt on a T-shirt, but they're still real people. So in a way, that song is a cost assessment."
Jimmy Chamberlin, the band's drummer and the song's co-author, added: "We're great believers in continuing the search musically until the last possible minute looking for something better than what you have, and that song is one that benefited."
Corgan expounded upon the Alice In Chains connection in a 2007 interview with the radio industry publication Friday Morning Quarterback, saying the tune was indirectly inspired by the death of the band's frontman, Layne Staley. The troubled singer largely retreated from the public eye in the late '90s and spiraled further into addiction and depression, which ultimately led to his fatal drug overdose (deemed accidental) in 2002. Corgan said: "Alice In Chains was a band that I didn't fully appreciate in the early '90s because we were all sort of competitors, and they were kind of more metal... and I wasn't man enough to appreciate them."