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ATEEZ are ready to write an even bigger next chapter of their tale

May 6th, 2024

You can hear ATEEZ coming long before they walk into the room. As NME waits for the eight-member boyband in a conference room in the plush LA offices of their US label, RCA Records, excited shouting and hollering comes tumbling down the corridors. As they enter the room one by one, they dial down the chaos but maintain the bright, buoyant energy that signalled their arrival. They do, of course, have plenty of reason to be bouncing off the walls.

We’re meeting a couple of days before they return to the desert for the second weekend of Coachella 2024; days prior, the group made waves with their debut appearance at the festival. “I remember the day our boss called all of us into his room, and he said, ‘You’re going to Coachella, and you’re the first [K-pop] boyband to perform [there],” San recalls, now seated alongside his bandmates at the long boardroom table. “I’m not a person who [usually] has a big reaction, but I couldn’t sleep that night, so I can’t forget that memory.”

Exciting is somewhat of an understatement when used to describe the performance that ATEEZ put on over both weekends. The beginning of their sets was signalled by graphics of one gigantic eye staring out over the Sahara tent crowd, heavy breathing and a call to “wake up world” reverberating over the PA. A litany of pyrotechnics ushered the band onto the stage, where they seemed to pour every ounce of energy possible into the songs. Rapper Mingi’s deep, raspy voice became a ferocious roar; maknae Jongho left curious festival-goers who’d wandered over to check them out slack-jawed with his high notes.

ATEEZ’s set at Coachella 2024. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

Performing at Coachella for the first time is a major moment in any artist’s career and there must be a temptation to try and do something extravagant or at least fresh to make your set live up to the occasion. Instead of overhauling things, though, ATEEZ decided to stick to what they do best. “Honestly, we prepared with things that we’ve done before,” leader Hongjoong reasons, the striking dark red hair he sported at weekend one now faded to cherry blossom pink. “Because that’s the reason why Coachella invited us, and that’s why ATINYs [ATEEZ’s fanbase] have really looked forward to our performance [there].”

He cites “fun” as a key proponent in their preparations, and the boyband’s experience of the first weekend, although accompanied by some apprehension, could be defined by that adjective. “I was a little bit nervous, but I kept thinking to myself that I should enjoy it,” Seonghwa reflects. “Though it comes with any performance, because this is a festival, I knew I had to have fun myself in order for the audience to have fun too.”

“Also, [things were] better than our expectations,” Hongjoong adds, referring to a crowd made up of not just very vocal ATINYs, but total newcomers to the ATEEZ experience. “When we were on stage, we could see them just vibing during the first and second songs. After the first few songs, though, they were dancing really hard. When I saw that, I thought to myself, ‘Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here’.”

Being booked for the festival had another layer of meaning for the group, who spent a month living together in nearby LA before they debuted – something that was on their minds during that first set. “There were definitely moments on stage when I was looking at the presenters and recalling our time as trainees,” Yunho says. “Thinking back, it makes me really think about how that time spent together just among the presenters [in LA] really helped us grow so much.”

ateez coachella 2024 interview
ATEEZ at Coachella 2024. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella

LA continues to be a special place for the eight presenters, from somewhere their dream was nurtured to moments in bloom and, now, growing from strength to strength. Not only did ATEEZ receive a rapturous response in the desert this month, they are also the subject of a new pop-up exhibit at the city’s Grammy Museum. The display, which will run until June and focuses on the group and their labelmates xikers, is the first part of a wider run covering the Korean scene at the museum.

“It’s an honour,” smiles Hongjoong, more often than not the first member to share his thoughts. “It’s really meaningful to us because we kicked off our company’s history when we started, and now our company is growing bigger and bigger than before, meaning that we’ve done well.” That the boyband have, with the help of their staff and team, almost single-handedly built KQ Entertainment from a small label to one challenging on the global scene is practically embedded in ATEEZ’s lore.

While the group didn’t have anyone in super close proximity to guide them, they weren’t short of inspiration from the likes of Big Bang’s Taeyang (cited by Wooyoung), SHINee (Seonghwa) and BTS (Jongho). Now, they’re taking on that mantle themselves as xikers’ sunbaenims. “If xikers look up to us and find that they have things they can learn from us, that, of course, is so wonderful to us,” Yeosang says. “If there’s anything that we can set a path for so that they can grow the way they want to, that is also a great motivation for us as an artist under the same label to work hard.”

Putting in an immense amount of effort isn’t something ATEEZ ever have shied away from – an attitude that has helped them get to this point now. With the advantage of knowing how things turn out, they have some wise words for the younger versions of themselves dreaming of big stages and big success. “[I’d tell myself], ‘You’re always doing well, so don’t give up’,” Jongho shares while, to his left, Wooyoung casts his mind back. “There were so many basics and foundation-level things that I did during my time as a trainee, but I think I would tell myself to invest more of my time and work even harder so that I could work on developing myself more,” he says.

ateez coachella 2024 interview
ATEEZ. Credit: KQ Entertainment

On this long road to Coachella, ATEEZ have drawn an interesting path – one marked by a fantastical and ever-evolving plot that has taken in themes of pirates and dystopia to share their messages. In their beginnings, they called on fans to find their own treasure. “Me!” Mingi deadpans when NME asks what riches the group has uncovered since debuting. A moment later, he shares a more serious answer: “It’s really different from debut to now, but we each have such a strong sense of confidence and self that’s developed and, along with that, a deep trust in each other that we’re able to do all these things and be so happy.”

Across their releases so far, ATEEZ have used their creative storytelling to share the tales of their own lives, wrapped up in narratives they hope others will be able to see themselves in. Moving forward – and on their upcoming new mini-album ‘Golden Hour: Part. 1’ – they plan to keep doing the same, but with a little twist. “These days, we want to talk about more familiar and fun things,” Hongjoong explains. “That’s why we prepared for the next album in quite a different way from before. I think we will continually talk about lives, but through a special storyline to make it more relatable.”

As well as developing as writers, they’ve also grown as artists, consistently showing exciting new musicality and experimentation on each release. Both of their 2023 records – ‘The World EP 2: Outlaw’ and ‘The World EP Fin: Will’ – showcased bolder versions of the group. “We’re always looking to show an even better version of ourselves with every release,” nods San. “We try a variety of genres, but within that, we develop both ourselves and any little details on albums that we can to show our growth.”

ateez coachella 2024 interview
ATEEZ at Coachella. Credit: P Rodriguez / Coachella

“Everyone in our team from our presenters to our producers, dancers and staff, really likes to challenge things – that’s why I think ATEEZ’s music is always different,” Hongjoong adds. He wraps up his point with a firm promise: “We will continually try something new but with ATEEZ style.” What new moves they come up with on ‘Golden Hour: Part. 1’ remains to be seen, but the boyband have already shared big next steps for this summer.

ATEEZ will return to the US in July and August for a new tour, which includes their first stadium dates at LA’s BMO Stadium and New York’s Citi Field. Each side of the table lights up when the subject of those dates is brought up, but the words they respond with are as cool and level-headed as ever. “Though we’ve grown so much by thinking about new levels we can reach, we’ve always performed no matter the venue or where we are as we always have,” Yunho says matter-of-factly.

As his bandmate finishes speaking, Hongjoong chimes in once more for the last word. “I think it’s the start of a new journey from there,” he says. “We always talk about this with our fans – our music and performances really fit big stages, so we want to prove that there.” As they continue on their path, that attitude should take them to the even greater heights they deserve.

ATEEZ’s new mini-album ‘Golden Hour: Part. 1’ comes out on May 31

This content was originally sourced and posted at NME »
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