Back to December

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

"Back to December"
Cover art of "Back to December"
Single by Taylor Swift
from the album Speak Now
ReleasedNovember 15, 2010 (2010-11-15)
LabelBig Machine
Songwriter(s)Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift singles chronology
"Back to December"
Music video
"Back to December" on YouTube

"Back to December" is a song written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift for her third studio album, Speak Now (2010). Before the album's release, the track was released for download on October 12, 2010, through the iTunes Store as a promotional single. It was sent to US country radio on November 15, 2010, by Big Machine Records, as the second single from the album. "Back to December" is a power ballad combining country and pop, with orchestrated string instruments. The lyrics are about a remorseful plea for forgiveness from a former lover.

In contemporary reviews, music critics praised "Back to December" for its production and lyrics, with some picking it as an album highlight. The song peaked at number six on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the Hot Country Songs chart, and was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In Canada, the single peaked at number seven on the Canadian Hot 100 and was certified gold by Music Canada (MC). It additionally peaked within the top 40 on singles charts of Australia and New Zealand.

The song's accompanying music video, directed by Yoann Lemoine, depicts the aftermath of a breakup between Swift and her boyfriend. Swift performed "Back to December" on televised events including the Country Music Association Awards and the American Music Awards. On the Speak Now World Tour (2011–12), she performed the song as part of a mashup with OneRepublic's "Apologize" (2007) and her own song "You're Not Sorry" from her second studio album, Fearless (2008).

Background and release[edit]

American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift wrote her third studio album, Speak Now (2010), entirely by herself. According to Swift, Speak Now is a collection of songs about the things she had wanted to say to the people in her life, but never had a chance to.[1] "Back to December" is an apology to a past lover in the form of a song, something that she had never done before.[2][3] In press interviews leading up to the release of Speak Now, Swift said that although her past songs usually criticized her ex-boyfriends, she felt the need to apologize to a person who was nice to her, "Guys get what they deserve in my songs, and if they deserve an apology, they should get one. There was someone who was absolutely wonderful to me and I dropped the ball, and I needed to say all that."[3][4]

"Back to December" was produced by Swift and Nathan Chapman. It was first released as a promotional single from Speak Now on October 12, 2010, as a part of the exclusive campaign by the iTunes Store leading up to the album's release.[5] On November 15, 2010, the song was released to US country radio by Big Machine Records, as the second single from Speak Now.[6] Around the time of its release, the inspiration behind the song was subject to media scrutiny, because of Swift's dating history with other celebrities.[7] In press interviews, Swift refused to reveal the subject of the song, as well as other Speak Now tracks, because she wanted to focus on the songwriting aspect of her work.[8] Actor Taylor Lautner, an ex-boyfriend of Swift, told the press in 2016 that he was the inspiration of "Back to December".[9]


"Back to December" has a length of four minutes and 55 seconds.[10] Musically, it is a power ballad.[11] In contemporary reviews, critics categorized the ballad as country[12] and pop.[13] The track is set in common time and has a tempo of 72 beats per minute. It is written in the key of D major, and Swift's vocals span from of F3 to A4.[14] The song incorporates an orchestral arrangement consisting of strings, recorded at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles.[15][16] It is one of the two Speak Now tracks to incorporate orchestral strings, the other being "Haunted".[16] Maura Johnston from Vulture described the song's texture as "a chilly day when the sun goes down too soon and the mind can only turn to past regrets".[17] Clash opined that the production is "wintry" with "soft flourishes of guitar and strings".[18] In the Los Angeles Times, Martens Todd found the song borderline 1980s rock.[19]

In the lyrics, the narrator apologizes an ex-lover for having hurt him. The lyrics lament a failed relationship that could have been special, "It turns out freedom ain't nothing but missing you / Wishing I'd realized what I had when you were mine."[15] The narrator reminisces about the last time she saw the ex-lover, "You gave me roses, and I left them there to die."[20] She wishes to go back in time to change her mind, "I'd go back to December, turn around, and change my own mind / I go back to December all the time."[20][21] In the bridge, the narrator attempts to fix uncovered memories and change where she went wrong, but ultimately realizes that it is too late.[18]

Billboard journalist Lyndsey Havens wrote of the lyrics, "To hear Swift declare and own a previous mistake was both comforting and empowering all at once — and proved that it's OK, and sometimes even necessary, to swallow one’s pride in the name of love."[21] Mandi Bierly from Entertainment Weekly describes the song as "a melancholy mea culpa with the kind of driving chorus and age-appropriate yet universal honesty".[20] Leah Greenblatt from the same publication ranked the couplet, "Your guard is up and I know why, because the last time you saw me is still burned in the back of your mind / You gave me roses and I left them there to die," as one of the most outstanding lyrics from Speak Now.[22]

Critical reception[edit]

Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone gave it a positive review commenting, "Swift's voice is unaffected enough to mask how masterful she has become as a singer; she lowers her voice for the payoff lines in the classic mode of a shy girl trying to talk tough."[23] Jonathan Keefe from Slant Magazine complimented Swift's ability "to write an indelible melody" and praised the production of the song, writing "[the song] showcase(s) Swift's unique knack for matching the overall tone of a melody to the broader themes of a song". He added that "it isn't easy to make a melancholy song like "Back to December" sound catchy at the same time, but that's what Swift does, and it's an impressive trick."[24]

Rudy Klapper from Sputnikmusic described the song as a "regret-filled apology".[25] In The Washington Post, Allison Stewart picked it as one of the album's "great" songs.[26] Dan DeLuca writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer considered "Back to December" the Speak Now track that most showcased Swift's maturing songwriting, thanks to the lyrics depicting her acknowledgements of her own shortcomings without blaming others.[27] Steven Hyden in a review for The A.V. Club was less enthusiastic, deeming "Back to December" a generic ballad and saying that it is not as effective as other album tracks where Swift criticizes those who had wronged her, such as "Innocent", "Better than Revenge", or "Mean".[28]

In a retrospective review, Johnston selected "Back to December" as one of the most memorable tracks on the album, deeming it a wistful song and praising the emotional sentiments: "Swift's lyrics slip between in-the-moment narration and getting lost in her head in an utterly relatable way."[17] James Rettig, in a 10-year anniversary review of Speak Now for Stereogum, found it to represent Swift "at her best" for portraying universal feelings about "lost love and youthful regret" despite taking inspiration from her own personal life.[29] Clash magazine's editors included the single in their list of the 15 best songs by Swift, with Sahar Ghadirian specifically lauding the bridge.[18] On a less complimentary side, Alexis Petridis of The Guardian ranked "Back to December" 39th in his 2019 ranking of Swift's 44 singles; while saying that the song is "beautifully produced", he remarked that it "never quite sets your pulse racing".[30]


Accolades for "Back to December"
Year Organization Award/work Result Ref.
2011 American Country Awards Female Video of the Year Nominated
BMI Awards Publisher of the Year Won [32]
Award-Winning Songs Won
Teen Choice Awards Choice Break-Up Song Won

Commercial performance[edit]

Upon its digital release, "Back to December" debuted at number six (which later became its peak) on the US Billboard Hot 100 with first-week digital sales of 242,000 downloads.[34] On the Hot Country Songs chart, the single peaked at number three.[35] On other airplay charts by Billboard, "Back to December" peaked at number 11 on Pop Songs, number 11 on Adult Pop Songs, and number 14 on Adult Contemporary.[35] According to the Billboard Year-End Charts of 2011, "Back to December" ranked at number 38 on the year-end Hot Country Songs[36] and number 74 on the year-end Hot 100 chart.[37] As of November 2017, "Back to December" had sold two million digital copies in the United States.[38] Elsewhere, the single peaked at number seven on the Canadian Hot 100,[35] number 26 on the Australian ARIA Charts,[39] and number 24 on the Official New Zealand Music Chart.[40]

Music video[edit]

Development and release[edit]

"Back to December"'s accompanying music video was directed by Yoann Lemoine, who directed the video for Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream", and was filmed in late December 2010 before Christmas Day.[41] In an interview with Country Music Television, Lemoine explained that he developed the idea for the video after being inspired from the film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[42] He also told MTV News that he wanted the video to be simple yet metaphorical. He added, "I wanted to work on the coldness of feelings in a very visual way, playing with the snow, the distance and sadness."[43][44] He wanted to focus on Swift's look in the video so that she would come off as accessible, saying "I wanted her to perform a very natural way, to make her look very European. This was the main challenge to me. All of Taylor's world is very far away from my culture, but I saw something in her that could be very rough and heartbreaking; far from the princess glittery outfits and glam that she often goes for."[43] Lemoine was allowed to take control of the whole production of the video, although it was Swift's idea to have her character leave the letter for her beloved.[43] Swift's love interest in the video was played by model, Guntars Asmanis.[45][46] Lemoine commented that Asmanis was the perfect fit for Swift's love interest, saying "I wanted a boy that was fragile and beautiful. I didn't want to go for a hunk or a perfect cheesy boy that would have killed the sincerity of the video."[43] The music video premiered on January 13, 2011, on CMT[47] and Great American Country.[48] Footages of the school and baseball stadium in the video were filmed in MacArthur Park in Binghamton, New York,[49] while scenes with Swift were shot in an old country mansion outside of Nashville.[42]


Swift writing a letter to her ex-boyfriend in a snow-filled room, in the music video for "Back to December".

The video begins with a young man seen walking alone in a small town to the snowy football field in a winter morning. The video cuts to Swift inside a house wearing a comfy sweater draped over one shoulder. She is brooding and singing about her lost love while wandering morosely around her house. She is also seen sitting in the bathtub, missing her boyfriend who she didn't treat well when they were together. About halfway through the video, it starts to snow inside the spacious house. A montage of Swift writing a letter is shown alternately with scenes of her boyfriend strolling around the town. It is then revealed that the whole situation is the aftermath of a break-up between Swift and her boyfriend. It is also shown that Swift slips the letter that she has written in his coat pocket before he leaves. The final scene shows her ex-boyfriend sitting in the bleachers of the snowy football field, reading her apology letter.[50][51]


Critical receptions towards the music video were positive. Jillian Mapes of Billboard believed that the video is "appropriately understated" considering the fact that the song is all about making an apology.[52] The Improper noticed that the video has "the look and feel of a Hallmark movie and is almost as maudlin,"[53] while Amos Barshad of New York magazine felt that the video was "terrible".[54] Tamar Anitai of MTV described the video as "a bummer", writing "[It] isn't just about a girl with her calendar permanently stuck on the twelfth month of the year. It's not just about feeling like a Lady Antebellum song. It's about getting stuck in a place of romantic regret."[55] In a different perspective, Kyle Anderson of MTV argued that the music video puts Swift in a "pantheon of modern classics" with regards to its "almost haunting visual sense" which makes up for the inadequate narrative.[50] Leah Collins of called the music video "dreamy and moody".[56] Her points were echoed by Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly, who deemed the video as "kind of lovely", which corresponds with the melancholic yet regretful mood of the song.[57] Joycelyn Vena of MTV noticed that the video is "darker" and "somber", something that is not synonymous with Swift.[41] Yet, The Oxonian Review considered Swift's "listlessness, the bare trees, and snowy indoors" in the music video attuned to the tenor of the song, achieved by "mixing wide shots, medium close ups, and cut-ins of Ms. Swift and her ex, matching their gazes across frames, and blurring focus tastefully."[58]

Live performances[edit]

Swift first performed "Back to December" in Paris at a showcase at the Salle Wagram theater, on October 18, 2010, to promote her upcoming album, Speak Now, set for release on the October 25, 2010.[59] Swift also performed the song on Speak Now: Taylor Swift Live From New York City, a special programme which was streamed live on,, and other MTV Networks websites in Europe, Asia, Australia and Latin America to celebrate the release of her new album.[60]

Swift also performed "Back to December" on several other occasions. On November 10, 2010, she performed the song live at the 44th annual Country Music Association Awards at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.[61] Her performance of the song during that event was graded as a "B+" in the Los Angeles Times, noting she "kept it simple" and "rose to the occasion".[62] On November 21, 2010, Swift mashed "Back to December" with OneRepublic's "Apologize" at the 38th American Music Awards.[63][64] Her rendition in that event was graded as a "B−" in the Los Angeles Times, noting that "a brief end-song breakaway into OneRepublic's "Apologize" seemed unnecessary".[19]

Swift performed "Back to December" and several songs from Speak Now on November 24, 2010, during Thanksgiving night, on NBC.[65] She later performed the song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on December 2, 2010.[66] On January 31, 2011, she sang the song in JetBlue's Terminal 5 in New York as part of JetBlue's Live at Terminal 5 concert series.[67] She also performs the song on her Speak Now World Tour as well as mashing the song with Apologize and her own song "You're Not Sorry", from her album Fearless.[68][69][70] The performance was released on Swift's first live album called Speak Now: World Tour Live.[71]

Credits and personnel[edit]



Certifications and sales for "Back to December"
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[81] Gold 40,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[82] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[83] 2× Platinum 2,000,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Release history[edit]

Release dates and formats for "Back to December"
Country Date Format Label Ref.
United States October 12, 2010 Digital download Big Machine [84]
November 15, 2010 Country radio [85]
November 30, 2010 Contemporary hit radio
United Kingdom March 20, 2011 Digital download Universal [87]


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