After their successful second album, Take Me Home, which sold over 5 million copies, and their first documentary and concert movie, One Direction: This Is Us, the band announced their third studio album. "[It's a] very rock direction," Liam Payne said. "We actually spent a lot of time writing this album. We're very proud of it, so we can't wait for it to come out. It's very live sounding, very rock-y," he continued, before also describing it as "quite retro". "But it's very different so we are hoping people will kind of adjust to the music with us." One of the album's collaborators, Julian Bunetta, who has worked with the band several times before, including tracks for their 2012 album Take Me Home and their Comic Relief charity single, "One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)", talked about the album during an interview with MTV News, teasing, "I can't really say, but it’s gonna be pretty cool. I mean it's just... I mean obviously we’re working on new music but they didn’t say what the new music is for. It might be for nothing. It might only be for my ears ... or, it might be something that gets put out for the world to hear." Eventually, Bunetta co-wrote and co-produced nine out of the fourteenth tracks off the standard edition, one of them was "You & I".
The song received generally favorable reviews from music critics. Chris Payne of Billboard called it a "slow jam, which sounds ready to get middle school gyms in a slowdance frenzy." Michael Cragg of Mirror described the song as "a delicate, acoustic guitar-lead ballad that sounds very 'adult'" and likened it to the work of Snow Patrol. Tim Sendra of AllMusic called it a "cinematically swoony ballad" that "shows the group have a sure-handed way with a big ballad and can tap into some real emotion." Annie Zaleski of The A.V. Club agreed, writing that to handle more grown-up songs, their voices have matured and deepened enough," citing the "syrupy soft rock ballad" 'You and I as an example. 
On 1 December 2013, "You & I" debuted at number 19 on the UK Singles Chart, due to strong digital downloads after the release of Midnight Memories. Later, the song re-entered at number 49, on 27 April 2014, after the release of its music video, becoming that week "best comeback". The song kept on climbing the following weeks, until it reached number 44, on 11 May 2014. However, after the official release as a single, the song climbed to number 22. In Ireland, the song also debuted after the release of the album, charting at number 45, on the week ending 28 November 2013. Similar to the UK, it re-entered at number 47, after the music video's release, before climbing from number 33 to number 7, after its official release. It became the band's eleventh top-ten single there.
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