“Many books tell me, ‘Look at the stars in the night sky and become the person who shines bright like those stars’, but the stars that I looked up in the sky did not shine at all”. If someone were to ask you of your dream, would you so easily come up with an answer? How can you reach the stars if there seem like none to begin with? While we might wish to challenge and grow beyond societal moulds to achieve our dreams, we fear the isolation that comes with it. Not everyone dares to defy so outright, but what if we found a subtle companion to help us navigate the rocky roads. As the fourth generation of K-Pop artists begin to grow, subversive themes are more thoroughly explored with powerful and striking concepts that silence adverse listeners and offer support and encouragement to their fans. Then, when I think of what this next generation are capable of in showmanship, skill, and talent, I immediately think of ATEEZ. As an epic team of eight, Hongjoon, Seonghwa, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung and Jungho use their music to exhibit their passions and help us find our own.
As their journey of chasing dreams and overcoming obstacles begun with their debut in 2018, ATEEZ grew from a small K-Pop group with an intriguing “Pirate King” concept into international arena fillers. Just teenagers themselves when they started, the idea of youth is an important theme they carried from the “Treasure” series and into their “Zero: Fever” trilogy. Track one “ZERO: FEVER PT.1” begun with a diary entry narrated by a young girl who was asked of her dream and drew a blank. She tells listeners of a strange occurrence where she met a weird child who looked at her with a bright smile and encouraged her to turn up her music and dance. When “The path that I only walked with another person became a path for many” and ATEEZ promised their fandom, ATINY’s, that they would stand with them to protect and preserve their dreams along with theirs. However, instead of a series of heartfelt ballads and sweet words, ATEEZ did what they did best and used multiple music genres from lo-fi hip hop to EDM, showcasing their astonishing vocalists and brilliant rappers in a collection of fighting fierceness.
Seven months later, the sentiment comes back full force in the second part of the series. Title track “Fireworks (I’m the One)” introduced relentless determination and a headstrong attitude that used a heavy momentum to supply us with intense supplements of energy. ATEEZ’s power is one of their most captivating aspects with songs that are typically a complete 180 of each other and as I was so galvanised by their “Treasure” era, I was eager to see how the “Fever” would grow.
So, fast forward to September 13th and here we are with ATEEZ’s seventh mini album. The two most teased tracks “Eternal Sunshine” and “Déjà vu” are extreme visual juxtapositions that portray ATEEZ’s genre-defying technique best. Furtherly fixating on this preservation of youth, the introductory track, “Eternal Sunshine”, is a synth-pop track that would have been perfect for the peak of summer. With a sparkling dazzle that shines through the instrumental and vocals, the night sky is so overridden with stars that it truly feels like we’ll be forever in eternal sunshine. While this track has a more ethereal tone than a lot of the ATEEZ discography, it is still of high quality and bursting with energy. The hook “Can’t stop the feeling” reminded me of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and the sensations are very similar if you’re looking for a comparative. I took Mingi’s promise in verse one, “I’ll get you a star” as a sweet reference to the stars the girl in “Zero: Fever Pt.1” was missing. Though while we’re talking about member Mingi, this rapper has proven to be a jack of all trades as he delivers that line in a flawless baritone. If anyone is familiar with this group, they will know that 22-year-old Mingi is one of the groups main rappers, and he was the first member of ATEEZ I could pick out of the crowd in terms of his distinctively deep and booming voice. But, what a way to celebrate his comeback after taking a year off for personal health reasons, to show his vocal growth as he meanders into the vocalist line for this track. Though you were still in the song recordings, it wasn’t the same without you, Mingi.
Then, the theme of eternity carries into “Feeling Like I Do” as the boys sing about “an unbreakable line” about two people who are “connected by a thread or nature”. However, this song faltered slightly. I was waiting for some sort of crescendo in the middle, but instead it fell flat. This was the only track I struggled with due it’s lack of flair and preppy repetitive tone. I think this was more a let down because ATEEZ are never the ones to miss a chance to subvert expectations and shock listeners, and while there is beauty in simplicity, there was something so evidently missing from this track. Although, I don’t want to make this track a focal point as the mini album quickly returns to it strengths.
While “Eternal Sunshine” is the albums intro, “Déjà Vu” was the first released music video and the most marketed of the songs. This concept completely flipped the switch and turned the lights out, darkness enveloping this track with a sleek and seductive performance. Here, the boy’s experiment with icy synths and rumbles of distortion in instrumentation for this R&B inspired song. It’s a lot groovier than most of their previous tracks. Although there were no structural surprises, it was heavily melodic which made it a catchy track with a brilliant vocal range for both rappers and vocalists. Plus, the bridge is a worthy mention, the added strings really emphasising the lustrous tone of the song. Originally, I wasn’t that sold on the song, but I concluded that I’m so used to ATEEZ’s quick pace, high-octane leads, that this slow-burn track threw me off slightly. However, once the music video kicked in and I gave the track a second shot, it found it’s place in my playlist – especially since I couldn’t get it out of my head.
Moreover, while “Rocky” complimented “Déjà vu” well, it was another switch up – one that I welcomed with open ears. It’s a far cry from “Eternal Sunshine” but it’s punctuated with the ATEEZ power I craved. The lyrics revolve around a boxers unwavering focus in the ring, the song named after the fictional character Rocky Balboa from the “Rocky” films. It has a motivational build and tone that feels like the boys are on the edge of that ring cheering you on with their empowering vigour. The electric guitar shred and heavy thud of percussion paired with the song’s chorus makes the track invigorating and inspiring. Cleverly the songs’ structure mimics the sequential order of boxing matches: verse one is round one, the interlude states “Let’s start the second round”, by verse (round) two your pumped with adrenaline, “My fist filled with ambition”, the bridge symbolises the moment of waver and doubt, but then the final chorus kicks in giving you that last push. Plus, the growling adlib at the start of the second verse reminded me of the intro to their debut single “Pirate King” – probably not something many would pick up on, but this track was comforting in the way it recognised ATEEZ’s roots though they continue to experiment and grow. As a standalone track, this would been a solid and firm comeback.
Though being the experimentalists they are, there are also much sweeter sounding tracks like “All About You” and “Not Too Late”, the two concluding tracks of the mini album. As far as the perfect ending goes, they feel like a big emotional pay off that was cherished. While they are group of endless vivacity and enthusiasm, there’s only so much tough love one can endure so it was soothing to have it switch up. “All About You” is the reward after the fight, the slow-tempo and lyrics resembling a love letter gifted to the conceptual successor. Then the balladlike “Not Too Late” puts emphasis on the comedown. It emphasises the fact that in such a fast-paced environment, loneliness tends to go unnoticed and then surface more painfully in those quieter moments. It’s an inevitable consequence of everyday life for a lot of people and although “I’m living and doing well”, “I hold onto the corner of an empty room and cry”. However, said the last 15 seconds of “Not Too Late” featured a playfully high-pitched melody of what sounded like a completely other track. Is this the light Jongho said “you’ll face one day” or a teaser for their next work? Maybe both.
Overall, this album was more on the smoother side of the ATEEZ track list, it still had more strengths than it did weaknesses as they utilised this compilation to prove their fierce determination to evolve. While their more experimental albums promised a passion that makes them one of the most interesting younger K-Pop acts, it can be exhausting to constantly tame a wild sea. So, these pirates have taken a new approach at conquering the industry, but still managed to surpass 500,00 album sales in just four days of its release. They must be doing something right.
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