Taylor Swift fans have been in a state of euphoria following the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version),” a rerecording of the singer’s Grammy-nominated 2012 album.
Although the 10-minute version of “All Too Well” and accompanying short film got the initial buzz, other songs from the album also deserve attention — including the nine “From the Vault” tracks that Swift originally wrote for “Red” but never released.
One such track is “Forever Winter,” which Swift wrote with Foster the People lead singer Mark Foster. Many of the previously unreleased songs focus on romance and breakups, but “Forever Winter” tackles themes of mental health and suicide.
“I see it as about serious mental health struggles, particularly suicidal thoughts,” said Jessi Gold, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. “I interpret it as a song written by someone who is trying to love someone through their severe mental health struggles and the challenges of doing that.”
The chorus and bridge in particular highlight these themes:
“All this time I didn’t know / You were breaking down / I’d fall to pieces on the floor / If you weren’t around / Too young to know it gets better / I’ll be summer sun for you forever / Forever winter if you go”
“If I was standing there in your apartment / I’d take that bomb in your head and disarm it / I’d say I love you even at your darkest and / Please don’t go”
“The narrator finds out how hurt their friend is and tries to tell them how much they matter to them, tries to be their support (the sun in the winter), and even help and fix things for them,” Gold said. “But still they are scared he will die by suicide ― ‘decide to leave instead.’”
She noted that the narrator tries to help and calls to check in, but she seems to get angry as her friends continues to struggle and doesn’t listen to her.
“This shows how hard it is to be a friend in these times, and how complicated mental health struggles are,” Gold said. “Sometimes you can’t fix someone even if you try. Even still, she wants him to know she’d love him even at his darkest and wants him to know even if his illness convinces him she isn’t, she is always there for him, and he matters so much to her.”
“Forever Winter” also touches on the isolation many people experience during a mental health crisis.
“A lot of people isolate when they are in their darkest moments, often fearing being a burden on those around them,” said Brit Barkholtz, a Minnesota-based clinical therapist who specializes in trauma. “But Taylor laments that she didn’t know he was feeling this way, presumably wishing she had known so she could have offered support sooner.”
Barkholtz said the narrator’s insistence that she will not go away may send a message to people who are struggling: that those who care will be there for them if they reach out.
“Trauma, depression, addiction, eating disorders, all that stuff can convince us we should isolate ourselves from the people who care about us but the song is a reminder that the people who care want to be let in, want to help and be supportive, and want to be in your corner with you, even if things are dark or messy right now,” Barkholtz said.
Many have pointed out that “Forever Winter” touches on some of the same themes as “Renegade,” the 2021 Big Red Machine song that features Swift. The lyrics focus on how mental health issues can affect relationships.
Others noted that it sounds like the opposite perspective of “This Is Me Trying,” a song off Swift’s “Folklore” album in which the narrator is struggling with mental health issues and addiction. Unlike “This Is Me Trying,” however, “Forever Winter” sounds like a happy song with its upbeat tempo and use of horns.
Barkholtz said the juxtaposition of joyful music with heavy lyrics might be intentional.
“She says in the song, ‘He seems fine most of the time, forcing smiles and never-minds, his laugh is a symphony,’” Barkholtz said. “She’s pointing out that things are not always what they seem on the surface, and that just because someone seems very fine and okay does not actually mean they aren’t struggling. Just because a song sounds like a lighthearted pop song doesn’t mean there isn’t a serious and powerful message about mental health in the lyrics.”
Gold praised the combination of happy melodies and serious lyrics.
“I think the value is that an upbeat song might be more likely to even trick someone into listening to it and hearing the message, and the more people who hear the message, the better,” she said. “We want to normalize these conversations and that people struggle, and friends care, and reaching out for help is important, necessary and possible.”
What To Do If ‘Forever Winter’ Feels Familiar
If the lyrics to “Forever Winter” feel familiar to you, you aren’t alone. Gold offered advice for those trying to help a friend or family member who is struggling with their mental health.
“Ask your loved one about it, even about suicidal thoughts,” she advised. “You are not implanting the ideas in their head by talking about it. It is important to have these conversations and for them to know they can talk to you.”
That person might think you don’t want to hear about their problems, so start by making it clear that you’re there to listen and talk about what’s going on.
“You might open the conversation with something vulnerable about yourself, so it feels like they are not the only one who has to be vulnerable,” Gold said. “Don’t just give advice but ask them how you might help.”
You can help by offering to research therapists in their area or teletherapy options ― and even by contacting providers to find out if they have any openings. And check in with your loved one regularly.
“Also, know that it makes sense that it can affect you, too,” Gold said. “Take care of your own mental health. Talk to someone for you if you need to. Get support where you can and also put up boundaries where you need to as well. Ask for other friends or family to step in if it is too much for you at times. It is OK, and you are not a bad loved one if you can’t be the only one.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.