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Joseph Kahn Takes Inspiration From Horror and Fantasy for New Taylor Swift Video

Filmmaker Joseph Kahn has once again teamed up with pop star Taylor Swift for Out of the Woods, their fourth collaboration in eighteen months and the latest track released from the singer’s multi-Platinum-selling album 1989. Following in the tradition of their previous videos, Swift’s new promo features an array of striking visuals that drew heavily from fantasy cinema.

Kahn Born in South Korea and raised in Texas, Kahn studied at NYU before relocating to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s to pursue a career in filmmaking. Over the next two decades he would work with a variety of artists from Eminem and Rob Zombie to Britney Spears and Lady Gaga, but Swift marks the first musician that Kahn has worked with on multiple occasions in such a short space of time.

The first video the two worked on together was Blank Space which, like the preceding single Shake It Off, reached number one in the United States and the top five in Britain. This would soon be followed by two more impressive videos, the action-themed Bad Blood and the elegant Wildest Dreams, although the latter would encounter controversy due to being set in the Africa desert during a film shoot but featuring a predominantly white cast. ‘SJW attacking me for not having minorities in my work when I have twenty-five years of most diverse multicultural work of possibly anyone,’ claimed Kahn in defence via Twitter. ‘Sad thing is when people make false accusations of racism and the public rejects it, it makes real racism harder to fight.’

For their latest collaboration, however, Kahn turned to gothic horror and fantasy for inspiration, with the promo for Out of the Woods featuring twenty-six-year-old Swift being chased through an enchanted forest by a pack of bloody-thirsy wolves, only to then be transported to snow-covered mountains, under the ocean, lost in the desert and then finally back in the woods, although this time surrounded by burning trees. The video also includes a scene in which Swift is attacked by vines from trees that wrap around her arms and try to pull her down, an image somewhat reminiscent of the notorious ‘tree’ scene from The Evil Dead.

Filmed on location in New Zealand, Out of the Woods is arguably the darkest of Swift and Kahn’s pairings, with Bad Blood owing more of a debt to Manga and The Matrix. Their latest, meanwhile, shares several visual comparisons with Neil Jordan’s 1984 classic The Company of Wolves, an adaptation of Angela Carter’s short story and lovely based on Little Red Riding Hood, while the cinematography is similar to that of Alfonso Cuarón’s sinister contribution to the Harry Potter franchise, the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Over the years Kahn has proven himself a versatile filmmaker, allowing himself to adapt to whatever artist he has been hired to direct for. ‘I have no ego…It doesn’t have to be about me,’ he told Odyssey in September. ‘Whatever artist I’m doing, it’s their video and I’m literally there to become part of the process.’ Thus, this has given Kahn the freedom to flirt with genres and concepts through his collaborations with artists from rock legends Faith No More to television commercials for the likes of Orangina.

But over the last year his work with Swift has proved to be one of his most creative and successful. ‘I think she’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever worked with,’ Kahn told Hollywire at this year’s VMA, for which Bad Blood won Video of the Year. ‘People always asked me, do I have to like the artist, do I have to like the song? I have to like all of it to do a video these days. And she’s actually one of the nicest, sweetest, awesome, strong combination of everything. It’s kind of freakish how amazing she is.’

Out of the Woods

Out of the Woods

It has long been rumoured that Out of the Woods, which Swift co-wrote with Jack Antonoff from New York-based fun., was about her relationship with Harry Styles of One Direction. ‘Out of the Wood is one of my favourite songs on this album because one of the goals I set out to accomplish when I wanted to make this album was I wanted to make sure these songs sounded exactly as the emotions felt,’ claimed Swift at the time of the album’s release. ‘This song is about the fragility and breakable nature of some relationships. This was a relationship where I was living day-to-day wondering where it was going, if it was going to go anywhere, if it was going to end the next day. It was a relationship where you never felt like you were standing on solid ground.’

The promo for Out of the Woods made its debut on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest following several teases online from Swift. The track is the sixth to be released from 1989, the singer’s homage to ’80s pop that also featured the underrated Style. Earlier this year, Ryan Adams released a track-by-track cover of the album, with both Out of the Woods and How You Get the Girl being the highlights. Much of Swift’s album was co-written with hitmakers Max Martin and Shellback, the latter also contributing to the overlooked bonus track New Romantics. Whether or not a seventh video will be released from 1989, and if Kahn will be brought back to direct, remains to be seen.


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