Taylor Swift's determined march towards a pure-pop career, nigh-free of the country trappings that demarcated her youth, continues with "Out of the Woods," the second song from 1989 (listenable here). Though it's an incomplete puzzle, between this and "Shake It Off" it seems increasingly likely that this direction was laid out two albums ago, acclimating her country-purist naysayers with Red and tracks like "Trouble" until she could emerge, chrysalis-like, into her next level of world domination. Then again, maybe she borrowed some Steinem books from feminist bestie Lena Dunham and was just like, "Fuck it, Imma self-actualize," which, more power to her. But too many people rely on her for too much money for this kind of thing to be approached cavalierly.
So for "Out Of The Woods," she employed a collaborator who could split the difference: Jack Antonoff, hitmaker for fun. and Bleachers, boyfriend of Dunham. They took the "XO" approach to songwriting, going for the definition of "anthemic" by imbuing breathlessness and leaning hard on the hook. The verse is secondary, which is fine anyway—the lyrics on the verses may actually be some of her worst, diaristic as ever but setting scenes so specific that they just seem self-indulgent at this point. "Remember when you hit the brakes too soon/Twenty stitches in a hospital room/When you started crying/Baby, I did too." This might as well be Harry Styles fanfic at this point, and if it's not about Harry Styles, who even cares? Didn't they date for like three months, two years ago? The main point to this thing is the chorus, which is fairly awesome, and as we are currently witnessing with "Shake It Off"'s copious product placement, all we're going to hear anyway. For the hook, built over an altered-zones synth line, Swift and Antonoff employed the age-old device of repetition, both in that Swift is singing the exact same note repeated, and in the lyrics, too, so the cadences act like a syllabic palindrome which will bore a hole into your head in which to nest and thrive: "areweouttathewoodsyetareweouttathewoodsyetareweouttathewoodsyet."* As such, its melody sounds like any number of jams— Journey's "Open Arms," Robyn's "Dancing on My Own" (the synth part), The Big Pink's "Dominoes," and most of all, Beyoncé's "XO" itself.
Of course, Taylor's been savvy about this from jump, maybe even savvier than Jay-Bey's fake-divorce/On the Run tour stunt, letting media parse each track for evidence of what famous boy they're about, dropping in Easter eggs for the superfans, that way we're not only invested in the music but also the person behind it. I know it's probably heretical to say, but Taylor Swift seems calculating as fuck. She debuted that shit on iTunes and Just Jared. Everyone is already chatting about "Out Of The Woods" and Harry Styles, and their apparent mildly traumatic snowmobile accident. "Out Of The Woods," thus, is not just a metaphor but a literal scene, or so we are to believe. "People think they know the whole narrative of my life," she told Rolling Stone. "I think maybe that line is there to remind people that there are really big things they don't know about." But what about the music, maaaaan.
*Nicki Minaj should resurrect her "Monster" persona and flip this chorus into some kind of horror rap IMMEDIATELY, Jason chasing hapless victims through the woods with a machete.
Image via Getty.