Following the release of Follow the Leader, Korn promoted the studio album by headlining the Family Values Tour in 1998. The tour ran from September 22 until October 31. "Freak on a Leash" was the first song played on their first tour date. The original composition had a "noisy guitar break in the middle," but, after the group found out that radio stations are not fond of "noisy guitar breaks," they asked their fans if they should take out the break. Roughly four out of five of the fans were in favor of taking the break out. The band described the break as "the Biohazard part."
"Freak on a Leash" was recorded in May 1998 at NRG Recording Studios in North Hollywood, California. It was released as their second single, on May 25, 1999, and is considered to be one of their most successful singles. Since its first release in the United Kingdom, it has been released over ten times. It was released in the United Kingdom three times, twice in Mexico and Australia, once in Germany, once in France, once in the United States, and once in Switzerland. Guitarist Brian "Head" Welch said that the song "was about Jonathan Davis being a freak on a leash—sort of a kinky dominatrix thing." Leah Furman said that the song "revolved around the mixed blessings of fame".
"Freak on a Leash" is four minutes and 15 seconds long. The song uses dissonance, distortion, and various effects to bring the song "to life." David Lloyd from the University of Alberta said that the song was an example of a "nonsense-utterance" technique used by lead vocalist Jonathan Davis. Lloyd also noted that the song contained "fragments of English-language words," and said that they "can be perceived in the midst of Davis' gibberish". Lloyd later went on to say that "Davis is giving voice to his inner basic feelings which are trying to resist being shaped or conditioned by utterances of others."
Elias Pampalk said that the song was "rather aggressive" and said it was heavy metal/death metal. Pampalk proclaimed that "melodic elements do not play an important role in 'Freak on a Leash' and the specific loudness sensation is a rather complex pattern". There are reoccurring elements throughout "Freak on a Leash". The song contains vocals, guitars, bass and percussion. It expresses moods such as anger, drama, and sarcasm.
An acoustic rendition of the song was recorded with Jonathan Davis singing a duet with Amy Lee of Evanescence, at MTV studios in Times Square, New York City for Korn's acoustic set on December 9, 2006. A remixed version was made by a fan in San Jose CA and submitted to Live 105 radio station. The new mix pushed the song back to the top ten requested for another month after the original had fallen off. The artist, Nathan E, came to the station for an interview where it was revealed he was just 15 years old.