It’s been a little under a year since K-pop boy band ATEEZ arrived on the scene with their dual debut songs “Pirate King" and “Treasure” in October 2018. Since then, they’ve rapidly picked up a reputation as one of the industry’s most dynamic young acts and gained particular renown for their impactful performance style and flair for creative sonic production.
With a strong international following — in the States, each of their first three EPs, all part of their Treasure album series, premiered on the World Albums chart, and they've seen several singles rank on the World Digital Song Sales chart — the group recently held their first world tour, and have since signed with RCA for local representation.
While in Los Angeles this summer for KCON 2019 LA, ATEEZ sat down with Billboard to reflect on their first year in the K-pop industry. Check out their Q&A below.
You recently signed with RCA. How are you feeling about that?
Hongjoong: Actually, that we’re [with] RCA, that situation is so amazing to us. It’s a very amazing moment. But [there’s] nothing different from before. It’s a big company, but we’ll continue to do our best. I think there won’t be many differences, just that we’re a bit more secure now. It feels very nice.
What do you hope to achieve in the U.S. now that you’ve signed with a local company?
Wooyoung: Touring and Billboard [Music] Awards.
Hongjoong: We want to go to some awards shows in America too.
You recently asked your fans their opinions in the decision-making process behind your singles for your most recent album, Treasure Ep.3: One To All, and for your official lightstick. Why did you want to do that?
Seonghwa: For the album, there were two really good songs for the title songs [“Wave” and “Illusion”] and we couldn’t decide between the two so we talked to our company about it and we thought a voting poll would be nice.
Would you like to do more similar events?
Hongjoong: Of course. Every album, we have different input from fans. Someday maybe we’ll do an album cover made by [our fans] ATINY. We can do everything like that.
Why is it important to you to open up your creative process in this collaborative nature with your fandom ATINY?
Jongho: There must be a reason that fans like us, and through ATINY[‘s input] we can see a bit of that reasoning. There’s a synergy between us and ATINY.
What if you didn't like their decision?
Hongjoong: It’ll never happen. Their opinion is our opinion too. Destiny.
How do you feel, if at all, Treasure Ep.3: One To All shows a new side musically to ATEEZ?
Wooyoung: In the first and second album, it was a lot darker and we showed a charismatic side. Now, we’re showing off a more summery, lighter viber to ourselves on the latest album. Very pretty, very different from the first two.
Do you feel you fit the darker or brighter styles better?
San: Every member is kind of unique, and there may be some members that pull off cute better than others but in the end we’re all able to pull off everything.
What are every member’s favorite album? [A/N: Many responded with single titles, not album titles.]
Wooyoung: “Say My Name”
Mingi: “Say My Name”
Hongjoong: Debut album, “Pirate King.”
Yeosang: Second album, “Say My Name.”
San: Yeah, “Say My name.”
Yunho: Episode 3. This album.
Jungho: I think “Say My Name.”
It sounds like a lot of you like the earlier stuff, so would you like to go back to that now that you’ve tried something a bit more vibrant?
Hongjoong: Maybe we will try many more different concepts.
What are you guys working on right now?
Hongjoong: Every day, every night, we always make music and try something for the next album. We practice. We’re always doing [something]. We can’t sleep.
Because of work? Or becuase of insomnia or something?
Hongjoong: Oh, no, I’m a very good sleeper. I always sleep. When I eat something, sometimes I fall asleep. I sleep really well, it’s the opposite of insomnia.
Yunho: [He falls alseep] just in three seconds.
This is the third Treasure album. Is this the final album from the series, or do you plan to continue it?
Hongjoong: We already know how we make our next story, but we can’t say about [that] yet.
[Since this interview, the group announced they will release the fourth and final Treasure album, Treasure EP.Fin: All to Action, on Oct. 8..]
What did you want fans to take away from the adventure theme “Wave” and “Illusion” music videos?
San: Since the first and second albums’ music videos were really dark and charismatic and kind of represent how we’ve worked very hard, these music videos were brighter and can sort of represent a time of rest. Like, for our fans, if you work Monday through Friday, the third album is like the weekend when you can take a break.
You released a music video for “Aurora” after the album’s release, and received a lot of love. What does that song mean to you?
Hongjoong: When I was writing the song, I got inspiration from the stage when I see ATINY from it. I feel like they look like an aurora because they always have their [handheld] lights and different ways of cheering us [on]. I want them to feel the same way as us when they watch our dancing or listen to our music, that they feel an aurora. Relax, very beautiful. I like that. So I write songs like that. The lyrics are about that too.
You also have a song on the album called “Utopia.” What’s each member's idea of utopia?
San: My utopia is ATINY, so through the song we wanted to show them how we’ve made a utopia through the bond between ATEEZ and ATINY.
This is a bit random, but you feature the phrase “Hakuna Matata” in your single “Wave.” Are you guys big Lion King fans?
Wooyoung: When I was younger, I watched “Lion King” with my older brother a lot when I was younger and I want to see the live-action film.
Yunho: [Sings the opening lines of “Circle of Life.”]
Do you have any other favorite movies or fictional inspirations you want to draw inspiration from for future releases?
Jongho: La La Land, Aladdin, those two soundtracks I really like. I think that could be influential for me.
Yunho: I like The Avengers. Kind of how in the seperate movies the general theme is cool and superhero-esque, I would like to see if ATEEZ could pull off something like that. [San plays around in the background, imitating Iron Man and Thor.]
Hongjoong: Pirates of the Caribbean. We’re already doing like that [with “Pirate King”], but yea.
What are some changes you’ve seen among yourselves since your debut?
San: In the beginning, I wasn’t 100% satisfied with myself and fully confident. But by watching the performances of my seniors and through ATINY’s support, I was able to find confidence. Even though I may still be lacking now, I feel like I’ve made a change for the better. I’m very confident, but skills-wise I can work harder.
Who are some of the senior artists you’ve looked up to to learn from?
San: Taemin [of SHINee], Kai [of EXO]. I don’t discriminate between senior male groups or female groups, so also Seulgi [of Red Velvet.] They’re really good at performing, so I look up to them.
Kind of a similar question, but is there anything that you feel you’ve changed about how you perform your songs or choreography since you started out? Either from the reaction of fans, or things you’ve learned more about as you’ve developed since your debut?
Seonghwa: When I look on social media, I do see a lot of opinions from my fans. I have my own opinions about what I want to become as well, so I take into account all of these different opinions and try to become a more diverse person with a more unique image for myself.
What is something you want to see for yourself?
Seonghwa: I want to keep improving on my hand gestures and facial expressions for during my parts during our performances.
How about anyone else?
Hongjoong: We’ve actually made some changes to our shows. Our fans like more active, harder music sometimes, so we arranged our songs [to be] like what they want. So in our fanmeeting in Korea, we arranged the music again. Some music had a street version, some had an electric guitar version. Things like that. We receive their message, and they want harder music, they want more energetic [music] so we change it a little bit with arrangements. As for me, I want to try everything. For example, in “Aurora” I want to make more strings. In “Pirate King” I want to make it more active with drums, guitars, like that.
Yunho: When I was a trainee, I was talking about how I focused on choreography, and one of our strong points as a team is that our choreography is very coordinated. ATINY really likes that, so that’s a driving factor, to work on growing as a group.
Another kind of random question but since you mentioned that you look online at what fans say… Do you have any favorite memes?
Seonghwa: There’s this type of comedic picture where fans compile one picture out of many other pictures, and it’s really funny to me.
You’re known as a hardworking, really dedicated group, so how do you relax?
Jongho: Every member has a kind of unique way of resting during their break, like some people like to play games and others like to listen to or make music.
What kind of music do you guys like to listen to when resting?
San: Begin Again’s “Lost Stars.”
Wooyoung: [Once’s] “Falling Slowly.”
Yunho: I like upbeat dance music.
Jongho, joking: Heavy metal.
Yunho: No, not up to the point of heavy metal. Upbeat pop songs.
It sounds like many members of ATEEZ like musicals a lot. Do you have any favorites?
Jongho: Jesus Christ Superstar. I watched a lot of musicals when I was younger.
What’s something you’d like to try musically moving forward?
Mingi: Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to hip-hop and R&B, and the genres are really kind of blending together. The strict boundaries are getting more and more hazy, so I’d like to venture into a song that mixes both. I’ve been listening to Drake and Lil Nas X.