I'll admit, I was certainly surprised, but not for the right reasons. My surprise lies in the fact that this is incredibly stripped back, even for Taylor Swift's Country standards. In fact, aside from piano and some organ that pops up during the bridge, there's literally nothing else here. It's definitely setting up to be a lot more vulnerable, and whether or not it sticks that landing we'll be getting to. I will say that the constant stopping and starting of the piano play to utter the words out during the verses is a bit distracting. A fellow critic also pointed out an interesting note when he stated that the song feels a shade too low for Swift's range. I agree. It's almost as if she's whispering most of the time. While I do get why they're doing it (again, they're trying to be more vulnerable), it's not exactly a good fit for her voice.
That brings us to the last element of the song, and honestly the writing is probably the most interesting thing about this song. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing revolutionary. It's just her reflection on a post party romance, and considering the aforementioned elements don't stick the landing all the way, they do at least serve to set a more intimate and better scene that the writing implies by itself. To be fair, Taylor Swift is a great writer, and the song is definitely loaded with clever one-liners and descriptors that go beneath the surface level. It also does a great job of highlighting her pain knowing that the one-time fling will always be just that even if she wants something more.
So overall, "New Year's Day" is a song that's setting up for something grand and ultimately comes up short even if there are more good things to say than bad. Still, even if I don't agree with Taylor or her label double dipping as far as genre goes, there's worse things to hear on Country radio.
Listen: "New Year's Day"