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December's children: The power of the 12th month for Taylor Swift and other teen-pop stars

October 28, 2010 |  1:37 pm


If you’re a teen or close-to-teen sensation fond of peels of pristinely produced power-pop guitar and lyrics that hint vaguely (or not so vaguely) at romps you’ve had with fellow stars, you have a certain favorite month. So, what is that month? Is it October? Um, no, totes boring. Is it November? Getting warmer (or cooler) but still not where it’s at. The best month for poetic symbolism? The kind you scrawl in your lyric notebook while wearing a single fingerless lace glove, perhaps? It appears to be December.

The Rolling Stones once referred to themselves as December’s Children, the partial title of their fifth album and a way to point out their wintry, difficult, rebel-may-care cool, as opposed to the Beatles spring-time, lovesick happiness. It seems that December has been similarly reclaimed in teen-pop circles, as shorthand for a time of regret, or difficulty or breaking away from what you know.

It all started with Kelly Clarkson’s album, “My December.” To refresh your memory, Clarkson’s 2007 follow-up to her multiplatinum “Breakaway,” which carried the smash hit “Since U Been Gone,” was mired in difficulty. Vying for more control of her career, Clarkson famously clashed with label grandpapa Clive Davis, split with her management and had to cancel her tour, due to low ticket sales. The album may have been a bit hexed from the start: Clarkson wrote the batch of 13 songs at what she describes as a personal low point, crashing hard from months of demanding touring. And surely, as anyone who’s spent any time in Irvine, knows, naming a song after such a locale would be curse enough. At any rate, one could imagine that “My December” has become synonymous with “Wow, I wouldn’t like to do that again” in the Davis and Clarkson households.

For Taylor Swift, whose album came out Tuesday to the kind of first-week sales Davis might recall with a piquant whiff of nostalgia, December has another shade, not rebellious but unsettled for sure. “Back to December,” the third track of “Speak Now,” is Swift’s apology song, her mea culpa for dumping some poor dude, even though he had tan skin and a sweet smile. “Turns out freedom,” she sings, slightly playing on the famous Kris Kristofferson line, “ain’t nothing but missing you.” No word has yet emerged on whether this sad-eyed-kitten track has gotten her another date with Marilyn Manson. Wait, that’s who it’s about, right?

Demi Lovato’s single “Remember December,” from her fine sophomore work, “Here We Go Again,” is also an ode to breakups, cooked with some of the rebellion of Clarkson’s wrenching away from Davis but also Swift’s wistful tone. Over a hairtrigger-wired frenzy of shellac pop, Lovato beseeches a wayward boyfriend to remember the good times. But it’s also positioned like the last stand of a great but possibly doomed battle. “Don’t surrender, surrender, surrender,” she demands, before sweetly asking for him to please, one more time, remember their promise of forever.

Who knows if Swift knew anything about Lovato’s song before she wrote hers (in a weird coincidence, the video for “Remember December” features a Lovato BFF who’s a dead ringer for Swift) but let’s chalk it up to a little touch of Jung’s synchronicity, perhaps as it would be imagined by the writers of “One Tree Hill.” Swift, a self-professed Christmas nerd and a Sagittarius with a December birthday, is carrying on a grand tradition. Your turn, Justin Bieber?

--Margaret Wappler (Birthday: December 9)

Photo: Taylor Swift performs at Staples Center earlier this year. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times