Back to December is a song recorded by American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift for her third studio album, Speak Now (2010). It was written by Swift, who produced the song alongside Nathan Chapman. The song was sent to country radio in the United States on November 15, 2010, as the second single from Speak Now. According to Swift, "Back to December" is the first time she ever apologizes to someone in a song. Critics speculate that the song is about Taylor Lautner, Swift's ex-boyfriend, although neither Swift nor Lautner have commented on these allegations. "Back to December" is considered an orchestral country pop ballad and its lyrics are a remorseful plea for forgiveness for breaking up with a former lover.
"Back to December" received positive reviews from critics, who regarded it as one of the highlights of Speak Now. Critics have praised the song for its expressive lyrics, its indelible melody, and Swift's vocal improvement. The song enjoyed commercial success, peaking at number six on the United States Billboard Hot 100, and at number seven in Canada. It also peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. The song received moderate success internationally, peaking at number 24 in New Zealand, and number 26 in Australia.
The song's accompanying music video, directed by Yoann Lemoine, laments the aftermath of a break-up between Swift and her boyfriend. The music video garnered mixed to positive reviews from critics; some praised the spectacular visual sense in portraying the somber mood while others criticized its inadequate narrative. Swift has performed "Back to December" in several live appearances, notably at the 44th annual Country Music Association Awards and at the 38th American Music Awards.
"Back to December" is one of 14 songs on the standard edition of Speak Now which has charted within the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Upon its release as a promotional single, "Back to December" debuted at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 with sales of 242,000 digital downloads (approximately), on October 12, 2010. Following its single release, the song re-entered Billboard Hot 100 at number 74 on the week ending November 27, 2010. It reached a position of number 18. It also peaked at number one on Hot Digital Songs, number 11 on 'Pop Songs and at number 12 on the Adult Pop Songs. "Back to December" also became Swift's fifth song to have failed to reach the top spot on the Hot Country Songs, instead peaked at the top three (the previous songs were "Teardrops on My Guitar" at number two, "Picture to Burn" at number three, and both of "White Horse" and "Mine" at number two) and her ninth overall song to reach the top ten, but failed to reach the top spot (the previous songs were "Tim McGraw" at number six, "Fifteen" at number seven, "Fearless" at number ten, and four Top five songs previously mentioned.) The song was number 38 on the year-end chart of Hot Country Songs and number 74 on the year-end chart of Hot 100. It is the only song from Speak Now that charted on the Hot 100 year-end chart in 2011. As of November 2014, "Back to December" has sold 1.9 million copies in the United States.
Internationally, "Back to December" had moderate success. The song entered in Canada and peaked at number seven on the week ending October 30, 2010. In Australia, the song entered at number 26 on the week ending October 31, 2010. On the week ending October 18, 2010, the song debuted at number 24 in New Zealand.
The song has received critical acclaim from music critics. Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone gave the song 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." 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." Bobby Peacock from Roughstock gave the song four stars out of five and praised Swift's vocal, saying that "it's her best vocal since "Tim McGraw"". He concluded that "[the song] feels a little more focused, a little more mature and a little better-sung than her previous material." The Oxonian Review considers it the centerpiece of the melancholic album, noting how "equating regret with December is a mainstream American musical tradition" and this song is "the congruence of her singing and songwriting at its finest."
Ryan Brockington from New York Post lauded the song, writing "it’s a very surprising, and somewhat brilliant, apology track where Taylor sings about wishing to fix a relationship she wished she wouldn't have ruined in the first place." His point was echoed by Rudy Klapper from Sputnikmusic, who described the song as a "regret-filled apology". Stephen M. Deusner from Engine 145 gave the song a thumbs-up and praised Swift as "an expressive singer", calling the song "a dark fantasy of apology and reconciliation" which is "a true heartbreaker". Kevin John Coyne of Country Universe graded the production of the song as "B", complimenting the lyrics in particular, by writing "it’s always a good sign when there’s a line as memorable as that one, the kind that lingers around in your head more than the song itself." He also added that he "appreciate(s) the restrained vocal, though a more varied melody would’ve made the chorus quite a bit more distinctive."