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ATEEZ Are Just Getting Started

Fresh off two sold-out nights at The Forum in Los Angeles, we spoke to the rising K-pop group to find out what's next

ateez interview
Photo courtesy of KQ Entertainment/Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    “Did you see the new Spider-Man: No Way Home?” asks Yunho, one of the eight members of ATEEZ. “His famous line is, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ We have more and more fans coming in, and we want to carry that responsibility well.”

    It’s a thoughtful — and fair — observation. Since the last time they were in America, ATEEZ have exploded. Three years ago, the eight-member group (Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yunho, Mingi, San, Yeosang, Wooyoung, and Jongho) played a venue in Los Angeles that held 1,500 people; on January 30th of this year, they appeared before a sold-out crowd at The Forum (capacity: 18,000).

    This change is an easy way to visibly quantify the group’s growth, but feels like too basic of a measure of the show ATEEZ puts on. The January 30th concert at The Forum ran over three hours and saw the group work through 27 songs that included every member. They underwent costume changes, performed all-out with their notoriously elaborate choreography, and managed to share some moments of lighthearted banter between songs. Then, they did it all again for another sold-out crowd the following night.

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    After wrapping the set of shows, the last on this leg of the FELLOWSHIP: BEGINNING OF THE END tour, the group sat down with Consequence. The first question feels obvious — how did they possibly find the energy to keep up that level of performance for that long?

    “We get all the energy from the fans,” says San. (The group’s fanbase is known as ATINY, a combination of the group name and the word “destiny.”) “We want to give the same energy, or more, back to them.”

    “I am so grateful to ATINY for waiting for us for a long time, and I almost burst into tears because I got emotional, but I wanted to show my smiles,” adds Seonghwa. “I learned how to control myself during the concert… I learned when and where I have to use my strength. It requires more concentration to do that, but I was able to show better performances on stage.”

    “We’ve been preparing for this since we were trainees — when we were still the KQ Fellaz,” Yunho shares, referring to their pre-debut identity as a group posting dance covers to try and drum up some attention.

    ATEEZ is the product of a small label in Seoul, and the members are visibly striving to prove themselves and constantly improve within the wildly intense landscape of K-pop groups. They tend to dip into many genres but are strongest in explosive, theatrical performances.

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    “WONDERLAND,” the song that opened the concert, samples Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9.” Their group concept incorporates pirate imagery, and “Pirate King” features Seonghwa swinging a sword. San begins “Take Me Home” dancing blindfolded before the remaining group members roll out mirrors that are used for the choreography during the remainder of the song. Jongho, the youngest member, has a voice that verges on operatic, spanning octaves with a belt that could fit in an arena rock group or a Broadway show.

    “Since I was young, I placed a lot of emphasis on vocalization training,” Jongho explains. “I practiced the SLS vocalization method created by Seth Riggs and listened to a lot of singers’ songs and copied them for practice… Brian McKnight, Wanya Morris, Musiq Soulchild, Guy Sebastian, Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars.”

    “These days, K-pop can combine so many genres, so we want to try more new things,” group leader Hongjoong confirms. “The next series, we want to be really… cool.” They’ve set the bar for “cool” extremely high with this last tour, but all right. Let’s see it.

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    In 2021, ATEEZ performed on a competition show called Kingdom: Legendary War, an essential part of their significant growth throughout last year. When asked about their time on the program, Wooyoung and San play a round of rock paper scissors to decide who gets to talk. (San wins.) “We were able to meet many of our seniors in the industry, and we learned so much from them, but what stands out the most is that we had the opportunity to show our style of music and dancing to them, too,” he says.

    “It didn’t feel like a competition,” Hongjoong adds. “We were learning so many things, it was great experience for us.”

    This style — that “ATEEZ” style of music and dancing San refers to — is noticeably different from that of many of their peers in the industry. Where, for years, precision in choreography has typically been the industry standard, the members of ATEEZ aren’t afraid to let their individual strengths shine onstage.

    It begs the question: Will ATEEZ begin exploring sub-units, the K-pop term for songs that only feature a few members? Will they consider solo songs and performances? “There’s no plans for that right now — we’re focused on being onstage as eight,” says Wooyoung. “Maybe down the road.”

    Like most K-pop idols their age, the members of ATEEZ all still live together in what they refer to as a dorm. Eight young men in one apartment is a lot to handle — but if there’s friction, it’s extremely minimal, according to the members.

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    “Hongjoong is like the father,” explains Wooyoung playfully. “I’m the chef, and Seonghwa is like the mother.”

    “I’m the shadow,” Mingi adds softly in his characteristic low rasp. More reserved offstage, Mingi shyly hides his smile behind his hands when his audacious performance during the group’s song “ROCKY” is recounted.

    “These days, there aren’t really roles in the dorm,” Hongjoong is quick to clarify. “We like living together with freedom. ‘Eight makes one team’ in the dorm, too — like family.”

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