Ateez and Me: A Humble Atiny’s Testimony

In my over 2 years of being stuck in this swallowing, gargantuan pit known as “K-pop”, I’ve accumulated listens and knowledge from plenty of different artists within the sphere. I experienced my BTS phase, laughed at my fair share of Jopping memes, and completely ruined my Spotify now that it recommends me nothing but music from these funny little idols. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve had with so many of them though, and I can’t express enough how much I appreciate them and their music. Though I’ve experienced so much in the realm of K-pop, there is not one other group that comes even close to how important or influential the 8 weird dudes I’m about to talk about today have been in my personal life. Indeed, although I’ve talked about them before in basically all my K-pop articles, I am long overdue for dedicating an entire article to Ateez, my favorite K-pop group of all time. I’d like to share with you today the impact they’ve had on me, because it’s been something truly special.

I found Ateez back in May 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing. I was having a hard time back then, just like anybody else, since I had been sent home from college and was fumbling through online school. I had been finding some solace in K-pop though, since I had gotten into it a few months prior and was using it as an escape from the insane events happening all over the world. One day I was shown by a friend the songs Wonderland and Pirate King by Ateez, and he was probably completely unaware at the time of the domino effect he had instigated. By the end of June 2020, Ateez went from being one of those groups I listened to on the side to fully becoming my ult group. I remember sitting down one night, bingeing every single one of their music videos, and afterward thinking “Wow. I like them. I really like them”.

Promotion shoot for Wonderland, the song that started it all for me.

Everything since then is history, and it actually felt really refreshing for the first couple months. At the time they weren’t even 2 years into their career, so it felt nice knowing how much I had to look forward to as opposed to other groups I liked, who were much farther along by the time I joined their fandom. Ateez are also much closer in age to me, which brought with it a feeling of closeness, like if they weren’t idols and I knew them in real life they could totally be my homies. About a month later they released an album with a song on it called One Day At a Time, in which they sang in English about taking things slowly and dealing with hardships in a calm fashion, with the sure hope that better days are ahead. That song really hit me, what with the pandemic and other personal issues I was experiencing, and at that point I knew for sure that I was an Atiny (that’s what their fans are called), and Ateez would be my place to call home in K-pop.

The name “Ateez”, according to them, comes from how they have “everything teenagers want, A to Z” which i swear is the lamest thing about them (honestly by K-pop name standards it isn’t the worst I’ve seen). Everything else they do, their music, their choreography, their lore (yes, they have lore), it’s all just been incredible to experience and wonder what they’ll do next. Lots of K-pop groups have a core concept, and Ateez are no exception. Their whole concept is that they’re pirates! And they’re on a journey to secure their treasure, which I’ll talk more about later. They use a lot of pirate-y sounds and imagery in their discography, though in recent times they’ve been exploring more aesthetics and music styles. 

Ateez in the Treasure music video, which was shot in Morocco.

The group is licensed under a small company named KQ Entertainment, and it consists of 8 members: the captain Kim Hongjoong (not leader, captain), Park Seonghwa, Jeong Yunho, Kang Yeosang, Choi San, Song Mingi, Jung Wooyoung, and Choi Jongho. They’re all incredibly talented boys, and the impact they’ve made on my life, though it’s probably cheesy, has been monumental. They’re a huge source of happiness for me whenever mental illness has me in its grip, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten through the pandemic as well as I did without them. Considering they just had a huge increase in popularity recently and they made it to #3 on the Top 200 Billboard charts with their newest release, The World EP.1: Movement, I figured this would be a great moment to share what makes them a great K-pop group and, more importantly, why they’re so special to me. 

Their Music

It’s hard to pinpoint the genre Ateez produces, since they tend to experiment and try new fusions of styles, but the majority of their more popular songs are EDM-based. Not uncommon at all for a K-pop group, but they also have a distinct sound that I can’t really explain without having someone listen to it for themselves. As I said previously, they’ve incorporated pirate-y instruments into several of their tracks (like flutes and horns), but that’s not the only thing that helps to form their unique style. The electronic instrumentals they use are all of a certain timbre that I haven’t heard anything similar to before. Once again, I don’t really know how to explain it, but it’s very well developed, I could recognize it from a mile away even when they add other genres into the mix. They’re also extremely good at using vocal work to bring out the real flavor in their music. Despite K-pop having all these multi-member groups, I don’t see a lot of harmonization or other vocal techniques get used very often. Ateez, however, uses it all the time, and they’re extremely good at it too. Not only do they use harmonization, but they’re masters of using background vocals to establish the atmospheric vibes of their songs. The little voice additions they have here and there really complete the picture of their musical identity for me, so much so I actively listen to their intros, interludes, and outros that don’t have vocals but the atmospheric ones. They’re amazing at setting the tone of their albums and bringing exactly what they want to bring to the table. 

I love almost every Ateez song. I have one or two I don’t care for much, but everything else I’ve genuinely never gotten tired of. It might just be me because I’m attached to them, but their music scratches a specific itch in my brain, and I can’t get enough of it. They just have one of the most solid discographies I’ve ever seen in K-pop. Nothing feels like filler, like there’s love put behind every track. With the production team they have, though, it doesn’t surprise me how good their music is. Aside from their main producer at KQ, Eden, they also have Leez and Ollounder, who are very talented music producers. In fact, they also produce for my favorite girl group, Dreamcatcher, so you could say I’m a bit of a fan. The captain Hongjoong himself also has a hand in writing the songs most of the time, and Mingi helps with the lyrics too, so overall they’ve got a powerful set of hands in the producing department.

You know a group’s going to be good when their debut title track is a banger. Ateez had two, Pirate King and Treasure, and I would have never guessed either came off their very first EP. Pirate King is such a mesmerizing track, despite it being more upbeat, and Treasure is just beautifully crafted, establishing their unique vocal work and style. And they haven’t stopped being awesome. Title tracks like Say My Name, HALA HALA, Wave, Illusion, Wonderland, and Answer came after in their first era of their discography (also called “Treasure”) and every single one of them wowed me as I listened to them all for the first time. Then came Fever era, and though there was a distinct change in their sound at this time and I did prefer the old Treasure sound, I enjoyed it very much nonetheless. While I don’t think the title tracks as a combined whole are more impactful than the Treasure era ones, THANXX, Inception, Fireworks (I’m the One), Deja Vu, Eternal Sunshine, and The Real did not disappoint me one bit. There’s also a lot to be said for Ateez’s B-sides, which really complete the picture for me. They often display a more lowkey expression of Ateez’s talent, and I love chilling and soaking up all of the lovely instrumentals and vocals they have to offer. Aurora is one of my personal favorites, it’s just so, so pretty.

The objectively coolest shot from the Guerrilla music video.

As an example of Ateez’s musical prowess, I’d like to talk specifically about their newest release, The World EP.1: Movement. It is without a doubt the most experimental Ateez have gotten, and though it is still very much Ateez, it’s so different from anything else they’ve done. It is the first EP of their new era, The World, and I honestly can’t wait for what else they have in store for it given how much Movement affected me. The entire album revolves about instigating a movement against a dystopian government. The title track, Guerrilla, is a harsh EDM track with incorporations of rock and metal elements, and it makes for a loud statement on their noncompliance with the law and their plans to overthrow it. The rest of the songs focus more on the sorrowful side of the issue. With lyrics like “this place where no one is sad is full of lies, a night where no one smiles, this is a frozen night, Cyberpunk mourns the way the world has become under the oppressive government, and New World pleads for the people to realize they’re being exploited (“open up your eyes, open up your mind, oh new world”). While this has to do with Ateez’s storyline (which I will get to later) I think it’s applicable to the world today or what we fear the world will become. The mixing and instrumentals of all the songs really blew me away, it took me a day or two to process what I heard. It was at its core pop music that is expected to come out of K-pop, and yet afterward I felt like I had listened to something deeply artistic and beautiful. I’m so happy to see how much recognition it’s gotten, it’s just a fantastic, solid release all the way around.

Their Talent

There are many, many talented idols in the industry, but as a whole Ateez are such powerhouses when it comes to stage presence that I can’t help but miss their flair when I look at most other artists. I don’t mean to discount other groups when I say this, because I love them too, but what really sets Ateez apart from them for me is that they’re all so passionate and bring everything they’ve got all of the time. Between their facial expressions, intense choreography, and beautiful live vocals, I never tire of watching them perform. They’re all amazing singers, dancers, and performers and really know how to put on a show. I love how when they enter the stage, Hongjoong yells something like “Attention!” or “Ateez present!” to establish that they aren’t here to mess around. Then they just do the most insane choreography you’ve ever seen (I’m serious, most of their songs have very difficult but very cool choreo) all while delivering surprisingly stable vocals. I feel like I’d do a terrible job explaining why they’re so awesome on stage, so if you’re curious, I think this stage of them performing their song Win demonstrates the average level of epic that you can expect from an Ateez concert stage. 

I really admire each member individually, as well. They’re all so unique and talented in their own way. Hence, I figure it’d be best to say a little something about each of them before I move on, to give them the recognition they deserve.

Hongjoong: Besides being an excellent rapper with iconic trills and effects he performs with his voice, Hongjoong is a music producer. He has written several of Ateez’s B-sides, including Aurora, Sunrise, Good Lil Boy, Rocky, All About You, and more (which are all delightful songs by the way). He also has done several covers, in which he does his own arrangements and adds some of his own Korean lyrics, putting his own unique spin on it. He has covered songs such as Space Oddity by David Bowie, Black or White by Michael Jackson, Lemon Tree by Fool’s Garden, and more. He’s very artistic and colorful as a person, I just can’t help but appreciate him.

Seonghwa: This guy’s the definition of an all-rounder. Although he serves as a vocalist primarily, Seonghwa originally auditioned to be a rapper, and it shows. He’s performed raps in several of Ateez’s songs and covers, and he even filled in for Mingi’s raps a few times during performances while he was on hiatus. He doesn’t lack in his official role either, with a soothing voice that I find shines very brightly in more emotional songs. You can hear the genuineness seeping through when he sings.

Yunho: Many main dancers in K-pop are shorter in height because it’s easier to maintain body control the less mass your body contains. This makes Yunho’s position as main dancer impressive, considering the man is over 6 feet tall. Not only is his movement clean, precise and satisfying to watch, but he also learns choreo extremely fast, sometimes being able to pick it up after watching it once. His vocal range is nothing to scoff at either, I adore how he is able to make his voice sound really fierce or really sweet like a Disney prince. He’s also shown impressive skills in acting, landing a secondary lead role in the K-drama Imitation last year.

Yeosang: I really wish Yeosang was in the spotlight more often. He has a very unique, deep voice that I’d love to hear more in Ateez’s songs, and you’d never guess that he’s not part of the dance line with how easy he makes difficult moves look. Although he’s getting more attention now from the producers, he still doesn’t have that many lines, and I think he absolutely needs to be used more, with his stable and beautiful vocals. Just listen to his covers he’s made for the fans!

San: This man is the most theatrical and intense performer in 4th gen K-pop, bar none. I’ve seen him receive criticism for this because some say it looks like he’s trying too hard, but for me it’s endlessly entertaining. San’s face goes through at least 20 different emotions every stage, always personifying the mood of the performance to a T. His aggressive dancing style and vocal growling add so much to the overall stage presence, and he always knows how to make the killing points hit hard.

Mingi: Mingi is the member that caught my attention first when I was getting into Ateez. His iconic husky voice would be recognizable to anyone after hearing just one of his raps, and boy, does he rap. Whenever I hear his trademark “Fix on!”, I know he’s about to lay it down hard with his bars. The power in his voice he displays sometimes is just unmatched. Like Yunho, he’s in the dance line even though he’s a big guy, and he absolutely belongs there. There’s really nothing like the energy he shows whenever he’s onstage.

Wooyoung: I love Wooyoung so much, his on-stage charisma and high voice are such a lovely addition to the group. He sounds like an angel in his vocalist role, and he’s absolutely incredible as Ateez’s other main dancer. He loves to treat the fans with dance covers, showing he can do anything from BTS to Seventeen to Monsta X, and he’s no less captivating in the practice room as he is onstage. Not to derail attention from just how dynamic he can be in professional settings, though. His dance cover of Bad by Christopher is beyond impressive, and it’s painfully attractive, too.

Jongho: Last but not least, Jongho’s voice is the most magical, godly, darling voice I have ever heard. It’s not enough to just listen to it, I need it to be dissolved into solution and injected into my veins. This man sings songs written for sopranos in their original keys and has demonstrated that he can reach to a C6. I fall in love with him all over again every time he opens his mouth to sing. He’s just amazing, I melt every time he drops a new cover of a K-drama OST (his favorite songs to cover) and he’s able to maintain his vocal stability so easily while he’s dancing. Not sure how he’s real.

Their Lore

As I said earlier, the main theme of Ateez is that they’re pirates. They’re not your typical yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum pirates, however, as is evident when you start learning about their lore. It isn’t uncommon for a K-pop group to provide a storyline that goes along with their discography, however in my experience I find it exhausting to pay attention to them given that they love to be very vague and cryptic with it most of the time. Ateez’s storyline, however, I find to be relatively easy to follow, given that they’ve started including diary entries (both in English and Korean) in their album booklets that tell almost exactly what’s happening. Though, of course, there’s things to notice in their music videos and songs as well. We don’t have the full story so far, as Ateez continues to show more with each release, but what’s been revealed to this point is just like, insane, and I really, really enjoy it. 

Hongjoong looking at the Cromer, wondering why the sand is moving opposite gravity.

I don’t want to spoil everything, but the premise so far is that Ateez started out as a group of friends who hung out in a warehouse, and they all had individual struggles that ended up manifesting themselves more as time went on, and the group was having trouble maintaining friendship. It was at this time that versions of the Ateez members from another dimension (called Halateez) came to them and gave them an interdimensional travel device called the Cromer. It transported them to Halateez’s dimension, which is ruled by a government that believes human emotion is the source of all evil and calamity. With the advanced technology this society has, they’ve created a world where emotions are controlled by technological means and everyone is basically a biological slave to the state. They’re there to make their contribution to society, no more, no less, and there’s no tolerance for artistic expression of any kind. It’s here that Ateez have the Cromer stolen from them by the government’s Android Guardians, and they learn they have to find it along with Halateez, who in this universe are known as the Black Pirates – revolutionaries that could only avoid being caught by the government through using the Cromer (If you haven’t connected the dots yet, this is the government that Ateez tries to overthrow in The World EP.1: Movement).

Halateez in the usual outfits they use to hide their identity.

I don’t want to say much more than that, but I have got to say well done to whoever does the storywriting, because as I was reading the diary entries I was constantly impressed by the concepts and ideas being explored. Ateez stick to expanding their universe all the time, too, even in their live performances and the way they market their releases. As a bit of a nerd when it comes to good worldbuilding, I think they’ve done a fantastic job, especially for being a K-pop group. I really wish they could make a movie or show out of it, because I would gobble it up.

What They’ve Given Me

The things I’ve talked about in this article so far are major reasons why I love Ateez; if they didn’t go so hard with literally everything they do, I would definitely not have found them or gotten so into them. These are things that I often tell other people about them when they ask me who Ateez are, but there’s a little more to it than that for me: the difference Ateez have made in my own life. This section’s going to require me to get a little personal, but these are things I really want to share. It’s still a fact K-pop gets a lot of hate from certain parts of the internet, and I want people to know that although there’s toxicity in both the industry and the fans, it can be a major escape and source of happiness for people like me if the correct approach is taken.

If you haven’t gathered already, I’m a tad mentally ill. I’m diagnosed with social anxiety, and at this point I highly suspect I am on the ADHD spectrum, though I am still working that out with my therapist. Hell, I’ve been getting distracted constantly the entire time I’ve been writing this article. Whatever the whole case may be, though, the fact is I struggle with forming relationships even though I really, really want to have them, and it’s incredibly frustrating how hard it is for me. So in general, I’m a lonely person who never has more than 2 close friends at a time, and neither do I get to see them year-round. The pandemic, too, threw me for a loop, since it was by nature a massive loneliness cultivator. But it’s not my goal to trauma-dump here, I’m including this information all to say that Ateez has been a major factor in how I’ve dealt with this and how I have not completely sunken into irredeemable depression and loneliness.

Group photo these goofballs took while celebrating the 3rd anniversary of their fandom, Atiny.

Aside from just being a music group and providing music that I really resonate with (I listen to music nearly every second of the day that I can), Ateez are some of the sweetest idols I have encountered in K-pop. I see a lot of people say that K-pop idols only pretend to love their fans as part of the marketing for the industry, and though I do think that can be true in some cases, it’s so apparent to me that Ateez do actually care for their fans and are even grateful to them for getting as far as they’ve gotten. Yes, it’s impossible for them to show love to each person specifically, but the love they’ve shown to us as a whole is obvious. On November 17th, 2020, the anniversary of the fandom receiving the name Atiny, they dropped a lyric music video of their then-unreleased song, Celebrate, before deleting it at the end of the day. The video was adorable and included hand-drawn pictures from all the members. The song itself was a celebration of the listener’s individuality, that they’re special, the only one out of 7 billion people, and that they aren’t defined by what others tell them. They congratulate them for being themselves. It was later confirmed that the song was written by Hongjoong specifically for Atiny. I remember I was having a rough day at uni when that video dropped, and when I watched it I actually started tearing up. Them taking their time to prepare something like that, on top of how emotionally open they’ve been (such as breaking down crying out of gratitude while giving concerts), I can’t imagine it’s all just an act. There’s genuineness in their efforts, you can just see it so clearly.

Besides the love they have for their fans, they’re just really cool, funny guys, like the kind of people I wish I could be friends with. I love watching their lives, variety content, etc. because they’re so goofy and fun to watch. I enjoy their interactions with each other too. Some of them have been friends for a long time, and you can totally tell that they all like each other because they engage in lots of hugs and other physical touching, and they’re comfortable teasing each other. I think I just like to watch boys smile, laugh, and have fun, since I don’t have interactions like that much in my own life and it’s something I long for. They’re just amazing people too, having shown unwavering support for their LGBTQ+ fans and becoming ambassadors for an awareness program for child abuse. It’s really nice to see there are still people who give positivity and support, especially when it’s from a group of men who are my age. I find that when I’m sad, and I see some picture of one of them smiling or a video of them enjoying themselves, I start feeling just a little better. Especially if it’s my bias, Yunho. He is like the human personification of sunshine, so looking at him helps me to get my mind off of the struggles and bad thoughts I’ve had during the day. He even specifically said to us that he wants to be a beacon of happiness to Atiny, and that when life gets hard, he wants us to look at him and lean on him.

One of my favorite pictures of Yunho. He’s so happy!

I realize a lot of what I’ve said in this section is a bit specific to me and other Atinys, since we usually do have some level of attachment to them, and a boy group as a concept is not going to appeal to every person on the planet. My point in sharing this, though, is to show what Ateez has done for me. Even though it’s really silly, some days I’ll think “oh, they wouldn’t want me to be sad about this” or “they’d be upset that one of their fans was feeling this way about themselves”. Call me sappy, but it genuinely helps me get through the day sometimes, and I think that’s enough to say my love for them is a good thing.

Final Thoughts

Back in January of this year, I had the very fortunate privilege of seeing Ateez in concert during their world tour. It was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget and I wish I could experience it again. Despite being in a room with 2000 or so people, it felt homey and welcoming. I sometimes rewatch the videos I took and that others took and uploaded on Youtube, and I get emotional all over again. Not only because they’re just amazing, moving performers and just about all of their stages are so, so good, but they were so humble and sweet talking to us and telling us little stories about their trip on the way to the US. They also did a few performances where they didn’t perform choreography, but rather walked around the stage waving and greeting the people in the front rows, and it was comfy and inviting. I had a great time and I miss it, it really made me feel happy to have them to look at when things aren’t going the greatest. More than anything, I think the concert helped solidify for me that they really are no different from anyone else. They’re just kind of guys who dance, sing, and make good music, and I love them for it. I’m not sure I’ve felt so happy being a fan of something.

I get nervous oftentimes talking about how much I like them, because I can’t explain it very well and there’s also the huge “K-pop is cringe” stigma, so I hope this article wasn’t too confusing or cringey, I suppose. But sometimes I just can’t help it, they’ve done so much for me even though they would never know it, and I’m so grateful for that and can only hope I’ll be lucky enough to tell them one day. Though I really am just another fan, and they probably wouldn’t remember me after, I’d be so relieved to know that they’ve heard what I have to say. Ateez aren’t perfect, their company isn’t perfect, the fans aren’t perfect, but I’m still so happy that I found my place as an Atiny. My life would be so different at this point if I hadn’t found out about these silly pirate men. 

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