Monday, March 14, 2011

Back To December by Taylor Swift

I’ve been waiting for “Back To December” ever since I first heard “Love Story.”

Taylor Swift’s breakout single “Love Story” and my first exposure to her stands as one of Swift's greatest achievements as an artist.  The lead single from Speak Now “Mine” which I praised in this earlier post is a beautifully crafted song, which tells a touching and powerful story. However, “Mine” doesn’t take any dramatic and musical chances. It’s a display of incredible skill but in many ways it’s similar to “Love Story” in its turn around in the middle of the song and its general musical construction.

While this is impressive, it’s in “Back To December” that we find Swift taking musical and dramatic chances, and creating an achievement as a true successor to “Love Story.”

“Back To December” is the third track on Speak Now after two tracks that would have fit perfectly well in Swift’s previous album. So when you hear the shimmer of the guitar and the string instruments flow in gently at the beginning of “Back To December” it’s almost a little jarring.

There’s something so different about the tone of the introduction with slowly falling guitar lines like leaves failing in a forest. The slow ascending turn at the end of the guitar brings a sense of hope but as the guitar ripples it blends back into the texture. The introduction is beautiful but it’s also cold and as the song unfolds we understand why.

Taylor Swift’s songs are statements of power and independence. On initial listening, her first song that is an apology seems to go against these themes. In the first verse she starts a conversation and then takes a step back reflecting on its awkwardness. An emotional wave hits as the chorus opens and we realize that this song is about Taylor asking for forgiveness. Swift delivers one of her most powerful lines “freedom ain’t nothing but missing you,” juxtaposing the freedom she thought would make her happy with consequences of her error: her feelings of regret.

The lyrics in this song don’t provide us any revelations beyond what you understand in the first verse and the chorus however she adds layers of depth to her emotion. Swift does what she does best, telling a love story, but from a different angle and the beauty of this story makes this song all that much more powerful.

Yes, it is not admirable to be full of regret and to apologize to someone who doesn’t deserve an apology. However, it takes great strength to tell someone that you have wronged and try to make amends. This isn’t a weak girl breaking down in front of guy, it’s a girl standing up and admitting a mistake fighting for the love that she has lost.

Watching her perform this we worry about what the result of this situations and Taylor’s shocked response from the standing ovation reminds us that after all of this she is okay.

Yes, it's just a song, but with a song this great you can't help but wonder.

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