The second single from Taylor Swift's 1989 album, the song was written and produced by the singer with fun.'s Jack Antonoff. "One of the goals I set out to accomplish when I wanted to make this album is I wanted to make sure that these songs sounded exactly the way that the emotions felt when I felt them," said Swift in a video. "This song is about the fragility and kind of breakable nature of some relationships. This was a relationship where it was kind of living day-to-day, wondering where it was going, if it was gonna go anywhere, if it was gonna end the next day. It was a relationship where you never feel like you're standing on solid ground."
"And that kind of a feeling brings on excitement, but also extreme anxiety, and kind of a frantic feeling of wondering," she continued. "Endless questions. And this song sounds exactly like that frantic feeling of anxiety and questioning, but it stresses that, even if a relationship is breakable and fragile and full of anxiety, it doesn't mean that it isn't worthwhile, exciting, beautiful and all the things that we look for."
Fans have speculated the song could be about Swift's brief fling with One Direction's Harry Styles. She told Rolling Stone it's the tale of a relationship where, "every day was a struggle. Forget making plans for life – we were just trying to make it to next week."
Swift recounts in the lyric an unreported incident when she and her then-boyfriend went to the ER after getting into a snowmobile accident
Remember when you hit the brakes too soon
Twenty stitches in a hospital room
Swift told Rolling Stone that her ex lost control of the snowmobile and wrecked it so badly that she saw her life flash before her eyes. Both of them had to go to the hospital, although Swift wasn't as hurt as her boyfriend.
Swift built up a lot of anticipation for this song by talking about it at media appearances (including Good Morning America) and using her Instagram and Twitter accounts to tease it. The campaign paid off when the song shot to #1 on the iTunes chart soon after it was released at midnight on Monday, October 13, 2014.
Speaking to Billboard magazine about the track, Jack Antonoff said: "There's a frantic feeling in the song. What's interesting about 'Out Of The Woods' is that it doesn't really let up. It starts with a pretty big anthemic vocal sample that's me, and then there's a drum sample that kicks in that's kind of huge, and then you don't really know how you're going to get any bigger but then the chorus hits and it just explodes even larger. And then the bridge hits, and it gets even more huge."
The song has a strong '80s feel, which according to Antonoff, was influenced by the work of one of the decade's most popular filmmakers: "We were talking about John Hughes movies, and a lot of the music that inspired [them], and just this general culture of sound in that time period that was really larger-than-life in an anthemic, positive way," he said. "These songs could be at the end of films that were really, really beautiful and said a lot."
A further lyrical clue that Harry Styles is the subject of this song lies in the lines:
Your necklace hanging round my neck
The night we couldn't quite forge
When we decided
To move the furniture so we could dance
Two paper airplanes flying, flying
While the duo were rumored to be together, Taylor and Harry were both seen wearing identical silver necklaces each with a paper plane shaped symbol.
This was the first time that Swift wrote a song to an existing track. "I came up with that melody, the verse and chorus, in about 30 minutes and sent it back to him," Swift told USA Today. "Both of us were just freaking out."
Regarding the instrumentation, Antonoff mixed 1980s and contemporary elements, especially when it came to the synthesizers. "I used a Yamaha DX7 a lot on that song, which is so uniquely '80s, but then countered it with a super-distorted Minimoog Voyager in the chorus," he told USA Today. "That sounds extremely modern to me. It's that back-and-forth."
According to Taylor Swift, the main snare is "a combo of white noise" that Jack Antonoff got "from blowing out the EMI board, clapping his hands, and, no joke, dropping his gear bag. He mic-d that up on the floor."
When Swift introduced a stripped-down version of the song during a performance at the Grammy Museum, she discussed the uneasy relationship it was based on, saying, "The number one feeling I felt in the whole relationship was anxiety, because it felt very fragile, it felt very tentative. And it always felt like, 'OK, what's the next road block? What's the next thing that's going to deter this? How long do we have before this turns into just an awful mess and we break up? Is it a month? Is it three days?'"
"I think a lot of relationships can be very solid and that's kind of what you hope for, for it to be solid and healthy but that's not always what you get," Swift continued. "And it doesn't mean that it's not special and extraordinary just to have a relationship that's fragile and somehow meaningful in that fragility."
The visually stunning music video for "Out of the Woods" showcases Swift surviving harsh and demanding circumstances in nature. The director, Joseph Kahn, took to Twitter after the release of the video to praise Swift's commitment to the project. He wrote a series of tweets saying, "Taylor was so dedicated to making this video. I was wrapped in snow gear. She was in a dress. She suffered for her art." He continued, "Taylor chose to stay in the mud for hours to keep the shoot moving. No in and out. Just gangstered it. She is bad ass."
Shot on location in New Zealand, the video was filmed in November 2015, when Swift was in the Auckland area as part of her 1989 World Tour
. The shoot was not without controversy, as Swift and her team were accused by local conservationists of flouting filming regulations on Bethells Beach
The scenic clip finds Swift experiencing several adventures. It starts with her being chased by a pack of wolves before leaping off a cliff to escape and we also see her crawling through mud in the middle of a lightning storm, braving a snowy mountain in her blue dress and dealing with some clingy vines.
The video concludes with the empowering line, "She lost him. But she found herself. And somehow that was everything," which originally was part of the secret messages in the lyric-booklet of Swift's 1989
Kahn said: "The entire video is Taylor suffering through an emotional landscape. It's a metaphor, being done practically on location."
Swift opened the Grammy Awards in 2016 with a performance of this song.
Harry Styles knows the song is probably about him. Asked in 2017 by Rolling Stone if he had a message for Swift, the 1D singer replied:
"Certain things don't work out. There's a lot of things that can be right, and it's still wrong. In writing songs about stuff like that, I like tipping a hat to the time together. You're celebrating the fact it was powerful and made you feel something, rather than 'this didn't work out, and that's bad.' And if you run into that person, maybe it's awkward, maybe you have to get drunk... but you shared something. Meeting someone new, sharing those experiences, it's the best s--t ever. So thank you."