Edited and translated by Kim Yoo Hyang
Debuting with “Pirate King” on October 24th of 2018 and having rewritten the history of story-telling in the K-pop scene across two years, ATEEZ is to make another comeback on the 1st of March. The team put a wrap on the journey of TREASURE series in a year and three months and opened a new chapter with the release of ZERO : FEVER Part. 1 last July. And now, the upcoming album ZERO : FEVER Part. 2 is to take over from the previous story. So let’s have a go at predicting how ATEEZ’s story will unfold in this album, especially as the band is famous for their universe and stories surrounding it. Based on their past works and activities, this article will take a look at “Fireworks (I’m the One)” which is believed to be the title track and things to look out for in their comeback music video, songs, and stages.
“To the start where the end awaits”: Melodies in which nostalgia and originality co-exist
ATEEZ’s ‘darkness’ or ‘ferocity’ is well demonstrated in their music. As solemnness is felt from most of their title songs’ introduction, they are like the army songs of the 21st century, trendy in their own ways. The low-pitched auto-tune in “ANSWER” especially allows listeners to feel the song’s power even just by listening to it. These musical elements effectively convey the story ATEEZ has commenced from their debut “Pirate King,” and carried on to “INCEPTION” where they “get lost while looking for [something].” The main motif of the song in the intro of “Say My Name” also adds a sense of Bohemian-esque as it is played on a flute-like windpipe instrument, boosting the team’s sense of freedom and dignity specific to their image of pirates. The multiple layers of voices in the chorus sound as if they are all singing at the same time and the ‘chant sound’ fillers such as “Hoo!” remind listeners of a troop or a tribe. Hence, this demonstrates how ATEEZ’s identity is the group’s unity in itself.
The first beachy title track “WAVE” may not feel as intense as other songs, but because it is not in a perfect major scale and because of the “HAKUNA MATATA” shouted by the team’s member Mingi, it is not just your regular summer vacation song. ATEEZ is able to express their recklessness even amongst the bright and cheery concept of “WAVE,” partly due to the song’s composer, LEEZ. The composer not only wrote and composed many of ATEEZ’s songs, but also wrote, composed, and arranged almost all of DREAMCATCHER’s songs including “PIRI” and “SAHARA” as their regular songwriter. The more you listen to the aforementioned songs, the clearer LEEZ’s style of music becomes: he writes with a strong sense of genre. The composer knows how to present a whole new world within his songs. Thus, he and ATEEZ together complete the group’s universe by incorporating the concept of a pirate crew that looks brave, yet ahold pains, into their music.
Let’s not rule out the possibility that this ‘Bohemian’ sound may also be familiar to us because we are in a generation that knows of Block B. Perhaps because the two groups share the same company, KQ Entertainment, ATEEZ has been referred to as ‘Block B’s younger brother group’ since their debut. However, it seems that the company is not the only thing they share. The background of ATEEZ’s debut title “Pirate King” shares so many similarities with Block B’s “Niliri Mambo” that it makes one think if they had purposefully planned the connections between the two. The similarities are also often heard in ATEEZ’s musical elements, such as the ‘chant sound’ fillers and the voice layering techniques which are mentioned above. Nevertheless, “Pirate King” was ATEEZ’s beginning of an epic story, the first chapter of their universe which has been continued till now. As such, familiar elements such as ‘army song’, ‘Block B’, and ‘pirate’ can be found in ATEEZ’s songs. But the group adds a layer of their own originality and fantasy to these somewhat overplayed elements and thus avoids becoming old and outdated. The biggest strength of this group’s music is that it utilizes existing features that could be cliché, and simultaneously differentiate from them.
Lyrics that reveal the agenda of 4th-generation idols
How did ATEEZ manage to make the refreshing waves of summer also feel somewhat grim? The answer in their lyrics. ATEEZ’s songs hold power because they talk figuratively about the unspecified identity behind ‘us.’ Most K-pop songs so far have been telling the story of “You and I” (like the title of IU’s song), but the ‘we’ which the fourth-gen idols refer to could mean the group’s identity, their universe, or their chronicles with fans. The reason why ATEEZ’s fierceness resonates particularly deeply is because it is not a mere boast of machismo. They do not show off their masculinity for the sake of doing so, but rather demonstrate powers that carry purposes and intentions.
“When that moonlight calls to us / Burning as if the world will be swallowed / We fly away holding hands” (Say My Name)
“Here we are now ocean blue / Somewhere on the waves / Still together / Though not knowing where we are headed” (WAVE)
“On my my way / Creating ways which were non-existent / Let’s go let’s go / To the start where the end awaits” (WONDERLAND)
“Let’s make a toast like a thunder / Everyone gather around here / If it’s burning, join us, yeah / Hands up as we raise the flag / Is everyone ready” (ANSWER)
As K-Pop entered the fourth generation, idols began to talk about their identities. Rather than telling stories about love or forming relationships with a specific subject, they express their fans as companions of a journey, or allies of war, making use of the unspecified nature of fandom. The lyrics in ATEEZ’s songs also tell more stories about ‘us’ and ‘we’ rather than using pronouns that reach out to listeners such as ‘you’. As the above lyrics illustrate, they often contain a sense of encouragement and strength to ‘achieve’ something together. They are not only morale-boosting but also create a bond between ATINY (fandom name) and ATEEZ bringing them closer together. While it is uncommon for encouraging songs to be more beautiful than cheerful, but the group achieves a certain aesthetic with appropriate metaphors and symbols. We cannot exactly pinpoint what “Our waves,” “journey,” “path,” and “world” means, but such ambiguity is exactly how this group and fourth-gen idol groups tell their stories. This storytelling is effective as it portrays how ATEEZ exists in the huge “Pirate King” universe, but also outside of that world, as they are on a journey as idols along with their fans. This room for interpretation in particular seems to be what overseas fans were attracted to, as they make up for a large portion of the fandom. A strong bond between the artist and the fandom is created along with the thorough narrative.
Above all, I believe that the figure referred to as ‘darkness’ in the concept teaser of ZERO : FEVER Part.2 could be the presence of ‘evilness’ within ATEEZ’s universe and at the same time citing to the big difficulty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is anticipated what ATEEZ will be trying to convey through this album and how they will simultaneously unravel the world of fantasy and reality in their lyrics.
After proving that they are capable of intense performances and leading the music scene with the harmony between familiarity and innovation, what kind of start will ATEEZ bring on this time in the second part of ZERO : FEVER? Hopefully, they open doors to various worlds with powerful melodies and deep lyrics of “Fireworks.” I also look forward to seeing ATEEZ’s storytelling shine on Mnet’s survival program Kingdom which starts on April 1st, a month after the new album’s release. As can be seen in the blue and red teaser images, ATEEZ is expected to blur the beginning and end of a universe and cross across boundaries of tragedy/comedy and darkness/light.
Editor Kim Yoo Hyang – I chase after the fancy and ever-so-shifting K-pop. Different universes and fantasies of K-idols intrigue me as they become a new medium of communication in our reality. Finding meanings in the tiniest details is my hobby and forté.