ATEEZ are the future of k-pop
Get to know your new favourite eight-piece treasure hunting popstars ahead of the release of their first full-length album, "TREASURE EP.FIN: All To Action".
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.
Sandwiched between Yeosang and Yunho on a couch in an upscale suite in Los Angeles, ATEEZ’s leader Hongjoong taps his chin thoughtfully before he drops a spoiler about the group’s styling for their upcoming album. “We have many opinions on what we want for our next concept, or our next next concept,” the 21-year-old answers in English with a cheeky grin. “I want to make us unique."
It’s such an innocuous comment that its implications go undetected until three weeks later when ATEEZ unveils a set of concept photos ahead of their first full-length album TREASURE EP.FIN: All To Action. While smartly dressed in bespoke, black double-breasted suits, it’s the crystalline veils that drip down their jawlines that make it crystal clear just what Hongjoong meant about shining brighter.
ATEEZ, short for ‘A TEEnager Z’, is the first K-Pop group from KQ Entertainment and consists of eight members who all range in age from nineteen and twenty-one: Hongjoong, Mingi, Wooyoung, San, Yeosang, Yunho, Jongho and Seonghwa. The group debuted in October 2018 with double title tracks 'Pirate King' and 'Treasure' and immediately emerged as genre frontrunners by mixing scorching trap beats and indomitable stage presence with a tireless work ethic and a gritty determination to see their dreams come to fruition.
Their underdog mentality, bolstered by hard-hitting cuts like 'Say My Name' and 'HALA HALA', helped ATEEZ revolutionise what it means to be a ‘rookie’ K-Pop group. In the span of a year, they've completed a world tour (including a sold-out U.S. leg), received their first win with their single 'Wave' on Korean music program M Countdown, signed with RCA Records in July, and released three EPs that each cracked the top 12 of the Billboard World Albums chart.
Their latest album, TREASURE EP.FIN: All To Action, is ATEEZ at their most inventive yet. The album completes the swashbuckling, treasure hunting storyline that they’d been cultivating over their last three EPs, and leaves the group just like they were this time last year: ambitious, passionate and ready to set out on a new adventure.
Exploring a variety of genres including trap, EDM and R&B, All To Action proves that ATEEZ can take any song and make it their own. Lead single 'Wonderland' is an explosive, brass-heavy call to action that unleashes ATEEZ’s full power with fiery rapping, fierce choreography, and growls, while “Mist” is a pulsating R&B playground for the group’s singers to sweep listeners off their feet with their poignant vocals. The secret gem on the album, however, is the uplifting pop track 'Sunrise' which was written and composed in part by Hongjoong and encourages listeners to hold out for the sunrise during their darkest moments.
The album is also full of allusions to other ATEEZ tracks; it can be heard in songs like 'Precious (Overture)' which is a reprise of 'Treasure', and seen in their choreography for 'Wonderland' which contains multiple dance moves from past tracks like 'HALA HALA' and 'Illusion'.
But underneath an intense schedule which saw them perform in three continents, there’s a side to ATEEZ that vocalist Seonghwa wishes could be seen more often: their humanity. “Despite our charismatic performances and how we look on stage, off-stage and behind the scenes, we’re very shy. Just normal, average, twenty-year-olds,” he reveals. The rest of the group nod and voice their agreement.
So who are ATEEZ when they’re off stage? It’s not until asked about their passions outside of work that ATEEZ’s true, youthful colours come out. “I like playing video games and sleeping at the dorm,” vocalist Yunho chirps. Video games are the group’s common thread and the conversation quickly derails as the members speak with unconfined enthusiasm about their most commonly played games: Pro Evolution Soccer and League of Legends. Mingi tosses an arm around San’s shoulders and adds: “San’s gaming skill is pro level.”
With the release of All To Action and its single 'Wonderland', it felt fitting to go down the rabbit hole to when ATEEZ were trainees themselves, practicing day in and day out and dreaming of the day they would debut. Since then, each member’s perception of what it means to be a successful K-pop idol has vastly changed as they’ve watched their dreams become a reality.
As a trainee, Wooyoung never imagined that ATEEZ would receive so much love and support from fans, who racked up over 11 million views for their “Wonderland” music video in just five days. “I thought it would probably take a while for us to get fans, because I know how hard it is to be successful in this business,” he answers truthfully, pursing his lips. “Luckily, we received overwhelming love and support from many people and I am very honoured. I hope to grow to be a top idol in a few years; an artist who’s very talented and humble at the same time.”
“I want to be a role model for other dreaming artists,” Yeosang replies in English without hesitation. “When I was a trainee, I thought it would just be about performing on stage, singing, dancing and that’s it. After I debuted, I realised that there’s a lot more to it; I’ve got to act cute, fly some hearts to fans and things like that.”
Flying hearts and acting cute are just the tip of the iceberg for typical fan service required of a K-Pop idol; it’s also ATEEZ’s “favourite part”. The group has a unique relationship with their fans called ATINY, a combination of the words ‘ATEEZ’ and ‘destiny,’ and in the past have asked them to help design the group’s lightstick or even choose the title track of their third album, TREASURE EP.3 : One To All, between the bouncy hip-hop track 'Illusion' and the tropical house tune 'Wave'.
“ATINY’s opinions are very important to us,” answers Seonghwa. “Incorporating their ideas into [ TREASURE EP.3 : One To All] made it that much more special."
Perhaps with the love of those ATINY hearts in mind, despite a successful tour and winning their first award for Best Performance at this year’s Soribada Awards, ATEEZ shows no signs of slowing down. With the release of All To Action, the band will begin a rigorous schedule performing their new single on the Korean television program circuit in between fan signs, multiple festivals performances across South Korea, their first anniversary, and celebrating Jongho’s nineteenth birthday.
With their treasure hunting days behind them, the eight members of ATEEZ will chart their own course toward a new dream in the k-pop industry. “We still have a long way to go, but my dream when I was a trainee was to form a group with great teamwork and to venture out into the hip-hop, R&B genres,” says Mingi, his kilowatt smile softening as he reflects. “Aside from looking at whether we succeed or not, I want ATEEZ to be a group that continues to venture out into unexplored territory and challenge themselves when it comes to music.”
“And still good teamwork!” Hongjoong interjects. “And to go on forever with eight members. That’s one of our dreams too.“
Photography via KQ Entertainment.
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.