By Tamar Herman | August 24th 2020
“What do you want to do? What are you going to become? / Don’t know, it’s my first time. I think I’ll have to live a little longer to know.”
This query and answer sets the stage for ATEEZ’s “Thanxx,” released through a music video on August 23. The second lead track on their recently released ZERO: FEVER, Pt. 1, out on July 29, the anthemic swagger of “Thanxx” was preceded by the alternating moods of the melodic hip-hop and EDM maelstrom of last month’s dramatic “Inception.” As a pair of singles, they put ATEEZ’s multifaceted artistry as one of the most prominent newer K-pop acts of the past few years, relaying not only the eight member team’s style but also their youth-focused messaging. At a time when much of the world is in a state of chaos due to the global covid-19 pandemic, their lyrics that explore the growth and decision making process humans go through during periods of adolescence feel more relevant than ever.
Speaking over a video call from Seoul, the members of ATEEZ discussed their latest release and the state of the world, sharing their thoughts and their endless passion of being a group aiming to represent the voice of youthful anxieties and experiences.
Tamar Herman: ZERO: FEVER, Pt. 1 marks a new era for ATEEZ, moving away from your debut-era Treasure album series. How do you feel entering this new stage of your career?
Wooyoung: It’s an honor that so many [of our fans] ATINY are cheering us on and supporting us, so we’re trying to do our best.
Hongjoong: Honestly, while we were promoting our Treasure albums, we always wanted for the listeners to know about our whole story, the one we’re relaying through our music and performances’ alternative, creative universe so we’re very happy to start anew with the Zero album series. We’re so grateful that ATINYs are interested in this new chapter.
Herman: Can you expand a bit on what this storytelling means to you, and why you incorporate it into your music and performances?
Hongjoong: It’s such an essential thing for ATEEZ. The whole story was planned before our debut, it’s something that goes with the history of ATEEZ. It contains important messages about our music. I think the story is the medium for our music, to deliver the messages that we want to talk about. Many people are very interested about this message and story, and that’s interesting to us too.
Herman: This is your first album in over half a year, since January’s Treasure Epilogue: Action to Answer. What is it like for you to make your return this summer?
Seonghwa: We’re very happy that we can show ATINY our new performances, and since it was the longest period for us of not being active we had a chance to practice even harder, for a longer period of time.
Yunho: We had a longer time to prepare for the album, so I think we were able to spend more time and energy preparing the choreography in preparation for our comeback.
Herman: What’s the meaning of ZERO: FEVER? Obviously it seems like a reference to your first two EPs, 2018’s TREASURE EP.1: All to Zero and 2019’s TREASURE EP.2: Zero To One.
Hongjoong: To define the new series Zero, I’d say it’s all about youth. We can say that it’s a prequel story, the story before the Treasure series, so we wanted to put in some diverse perspectives on youth itself. All the music, and all the contents like the diary film, are all related to the theme of “youth.” Honestly, I would say it’s about youth but it’s not about any age or any generation. The overall message is that youth can be hurtful, but it also at the same time makes your heart flutter. We want to combine all the feelings and messages of youth that everyone can relate to, and it’s related to how you can find Treasure.
Seonghwa: Firstly, I think “Inception” is so precious because it’s the first time we tried this kind of song, and it was so interesting that we could show different aspects of ourselves through this.
Hongjoong: “Thanxx” is ATEEZ’s puberty. Honestly, many of our listeners may not know that ATEEZ’s name refers to “A Teenager Z,” so those in their adolescence and those who have experienced that, everyone can enjoy that song.
Wooyoung: Songs like “Say My Name” or other songs in the past have represented ourselves as ATEEZ but songs on this album like “Thanxx” and “Good Lil Boy” represent ourselves as, and the spirit of being, teenagers.
Herman: Now that you mentioned “Good Lil Boy,” aside from the singles is there any song you want people to particularly take note of?
San: “One Day At a Time,” I hope that we can perform it in front of ATINY. It’s all about what we wanted to say to our fans this time. I think the lyrics are so beautiful, so I hope the listeners and ATINY check out that song too.
Jongho: “Good Lil Boy” is a song that Hongjoong composed himself, so we want our listeners, and the general public, to listen to that song and know about it.
Herman: Hongjoong, how do you feel to be recognized for your composing?
Hongjoong: I’m really thankful to ATINY that they love my songs, and that’s why I continually compose songs and show our fans my song. I’m really thankful for that. I always feel that I’ll try more and more to make good songs, better songs.
Herman: San mentioned that he wants people to pay attention to the lyrics of “One Day At a Time,” which happens to be an all-English song. Why did you decide to release that song specifically in English?
Hongjoong: English is the most used language in the world, so we wanted to deliver the message in that song to as many people as possible, so that’s why we chose to use English lyrics.
San, patting Hongjoong on the back: Yeah!!!
Herman: Do you have any favorite lyrics on the album?
San, looking at Seonghwa: You do, right?
Seonghwa: Yes. For me, in “Fever”: “Maybe we’re living younger, that’s why we’re fever.” I think that’s the overall main theme of this album, that we want to tell fans. I feel the idea of “fever” represents chasing our dreams and overcoming all the obstacles in our paths.
Yeosang: For me, it’s in “Inception,” my part in the song: “Finding traces you’ve left, I’m wandering for you, you a dream.” It’s about chasing someone who is maybe like a dream for me. I like that lyric.
Herman: Mingi and Hongjoong, you both took a very active role on this album, co-writing the songs and providing lyrics. Has anything changed about your approach to creating music for this album versus your earlier releases?
Mingi: As the series has changed, I wanted to make changes for the flow and contents of the lyrics that I write. So on this album, for its lyrics I wanted to represent the feelings of teenagers and youth so I tried to put fresher feelings into the album.
Herman: For the rest of the members, how do you feel this album reflects the ATEEZ of the now versus prior albums? Was there anything new you tried on this album that you haven’t been able to do in the past?
Hongjoong: Musically for this album, we tried to change every aspect of things. Especially regarding the musical genre of the songs, I wanted personally to make things rougher and more intense. If it was a fierce song, it should be fiercer sounding [than past releases]. If it were a calm song, it should be even calmer sounding and more melodic. It’s all about expressing the feelings of youth in our music, so as a songwriter that’s what I tried hard to do. I also want to be so thankful to the production team of the album, Eden-ary. I want to personally make a shout out to them.
Herman: 2020 overall has been a very tough year for people. How are the members of ATEEZ coping with all of these difficulties, especially when releasing an album during this time?
Yunho: For me, I was disappointed that our world tour [The Fellowship: Map the Treasure ] was postponed. It’s sad, but because we couldn’t tour we put our all into practicing and meeting our fans through these performances, putting all our energy into that.
Hongjoong: Since we cannot meet our fans directly, we’re seeking many chances and ways to communicate with the fans. We hope many ATINYs look forward to what we are doing.
San: We always communicate with our fans over social media, but to be honest because the tour was unable to take place we were so disappointed. So we are putting a bit more effort to communicate with fans that way, and to show more sides of ourselves over social media.
Herman: Speaking of social media, recently your company KQ entertainment issued a statement after Hongjoong wore cornrows in promotional imagery for the album. The company said that it will “pay more attention to the racial, historical, and cultural issues” related to the content that it releases in the future, though wouldn’t be able to edit or modify it at this time. How did you feel about this?
Hongjoong: Going through this issue, I got to acknowledge that we have to take more care and we have to know more about every ethnic, historic, and cultural aspect in a more comprehensive manner. We have to learn and know about it. That’s what I learned from this. I will try hard to do my best to prevent this sort of issue again.
Herman: As you grow as artists and in your career since your debut in 2018, you’ve achieved a lot of successes and released a lot of music, and now have fans from across the world. How do you feel you’ve grown and changed as artists and people in that time?
Seonghwa: We’re very grateful for all of this attention and people praising us for our growth, but I think ATEEZ still has a lot of passion and we’re going to try to do our best moving forward, and focus on our growth.
Herman: Is there a word or sentence that comes to mind to describe ATEEZ?
Wooyoung: ATEEZ is “passion.”
Hongjoong: The main theme of this album is youth, so I think that too. [San whispers in his ear.] San says it’s us having diverse charms.
San: We have very varied, colorful charms fitting the eight of us.
Hongjoong: Passion and Fever is ATEEZ’s color.