For such an evocative holiday – clocks, Champagne, descending balls, mass kissing and sparklers make a heady mix of joy, grief, regret, optimism, and dread – New Year's Eve/Day suffers from a dearth of official songs. Other than the corny "Auld Lang Syne" or, maybe, deep cuts from ABBA ("Happy New Year") and U2 ("New Year's Day"), few of us could hum any appropriate chestnuts from memory. That's weird and inconvenient; New Year's is the ideal, 100% secular, non-denominational, global holiday of November and December, a celebration that alienates almost no one. (Even Thanksgiving has its controversies.) It deserves a more robust musical catalog – and Taylor Swift's "New Year's Day" should top the list.
"New Year's Day" is a perfect album closer on Swift's reputation, released last November. As if plunked on an attic piano whose dust cover has just been snapped off one sun-dappled January morning, it's a gentle, lower-case ballad that Swift and her listeners have earned after the thrilling, electronic cacophony of the LP's previous 14 tracks. It also hearkens back to the so-called "old Taylor" construct, the country-pop ingenue who never actually "died," the girl with just a guitar or piano, singing with aching bittersweetness and specificity about time spent with a boy, a man, a lover. Give it some time, a viral moment or a featured spot on a CW show, and "New Year's Day" should and could, belatedly, become one of her most enduring songs ever – the kind we and our offspring drag out every holiday season alongside the likes of Mariah Carey, Wham!, and Bing Crosby. With the reputation era almost in the rearview (a Netflix concert special which drops, yes, on New Year's Eve, is presumably the final album product), the campaign to enter "New Year's Day" into the forever holiday canon starts now.
The unassuming, easy-to-memorize track – soft, muted piano, vocals just above a whisper – captures a holiday moment quieter than midnight on December 31, but no less charged or tenuous: the morning after the big soiree, this one hosted by Taylor and her paramour. "There's glitter on the floor after the party/Girls carrying their shoes down in the lobby," she sings. "Candle wax and Polaroids on the hardwood floor/You and me from the night before." Taylor's not just nursing a hangover, though. She's cherishing the cozy, intimate hush of the first morning of the New Year, "cleaning up bottles" with her significant other, praying the romantic contentment isn't as ephemeral as sense memory suggests, and vowing to stick around for the crappy, boring, domestic times. "Please don't ever become a stranger whose laugh I could recognize anywhere," she pleads. Not exactly low key, but who hasn't been there?
So, will this thing last? Will these good times stick around? Unclear, because that's how life generally works, and that's also what makes the holiday season so poignant, so tinged with real and possible pain: "Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you/And I will hold on to you."
An exquisitely relatable, timeless, yet seasonably appropriate sentiment – both very Swiftian and universal, too, delivered in a melody perfect for a singalong or contemplative, solo karaoke choice. That's why "New Year's Day" – stripped of snake emoji, name-that-boyfriend, aggressive cancel culture or any other Taylor contexts discussed over the past 10-plus years — should pop up on your playlist the day after Thanksgiving and stay on it until January 1. Play it for a slow dance. Sing along in the car when you’re driving to the mall. Turn it on while cleaning up the bottles, confetti, and cheese dip from your own New Year’s party — with or without a loved one. Hold on to it.