It’s almost eleven in the evening in Seoul when the eight members of ATEEZ saunter into the room where a laptop has been set up to facilitate our conversation. They’re fresh-faced, ebullient and noisy, their outfits still in place—evidently from the photoshoot they spent most of their day on. There’s another event lined up later, giving us just enough of a window to squeeze in an interview and some jokes (member Seonghwa has apparently been conferred the title of “Angry Bird” for his motherly ways, and rapper Mingi can’t sleep after watching a horror movie, for those interested). They take it all in stride, with the practiced grace of a group just beginning to explore the possibilities of their impact, but also occasionally pausing to pinch themselves. Life is a whirlwind for ATEEZ, and that doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.

To call them “Monster Rookies” would be apt, yet painfully inadequate. In the five months since making their debut in 2018, the eight members of ATEEZ—Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Mingi, Yeosang, San, Wooyoung, Yunho, and Jongho—have bullishly torn through music charts around the world, spelling a string of successes unprecedented for new acts in K-pop.

Their first EP, Treasure EP.1: All to Zero, peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard World Albums Chart. Three months later, in January, the follow-up Treasure EP.2: Zero to One bowed at No. 5, making them one of the few rookie K-pop groups in history to have two albums on the chart at the same time. Views have been racking up by the millions: they opened 2019 with the EDM and trap-heavy “Say My Name,” which garnered 7 million views in just under a week. Later, the earthy hues of “Say My Name” were substituted by harnesses, leather coats and ominous face masks in the power-packed “HALA HALA” video, which currently stands at 2.6 million views. Then, there are the upcoming tours—five dates in the US and ten in Europe next month, the former courtesy of their avid fanbase, ATINYs, who banded together on the online platform MyMusicTaste to request a stateside concert. This all within half a year of the debut by a group that hails from a relatively small company marks a streak that even established K-pop acts take years to achieve.

If it all seems to be going into overdrive, the band is right along for the ride. “We’ve been promoting since the beginning of the year until now. Our resolution this year was to work diligently so our promotions can become [successful],” shares leader, rapper and lyricist Hongjoong of their unstoppable pace.

“We think that each person has a treasure in their hearts and we are all chasing after our own treasure. So in terms of that, we hope that the messages in our heart can be conveyed through our albums,” Hongjoong adds.

As they gear up for their first-ever stateside tour and break more records in the process, the members took the time to talk about their music, artistry and future plans with PopCrush.

You’ve had a string of successes over the past few months: First, there’s the sold-out tour. More recently, you had two albums on the Billboard World Albums chart. How have you been taking it in?

Seonghwa: We were so happy to hear the good news. First of all, I think this was all possible because of our ATINYs [fans], who love us a lot. As soon as we heard the news, the first thing we thought of was how thankful we were to our fans. We’re determined to create better stages and music in order to return the love our fans have shown us.

What are your goals with this tour? What are you hoping to accomplish?

Yeosang: We’re hoping to directly deliver our energy to our international fans who have waited to see us! We also want to make many memories with our ATINY.

You’re probably one of the youngest acts ever in K-pop to embark on a US Tour, less than six months after your debut. Was crossing over to America always part of the plan?

Jongho: Although it wasn’t planned, it was definitely one of the things we wanted to achieve. Ever since I started dreaming of becoming a singer, I watched our industry seniors perform and promote abroad, and I wondered if I could ever stand on those stages. So, being able to meet our Korean fans and international ATINYs through our US tour feels like a dream come true.

Your first EP did quite well. Almost immediately, there was noise in the international sphere. After that, was it easier or more difficult working on the second EP?

Hongjoong: Our first album was our debut album, and we weren’t expecting it to receive so much love. But still, because it was our debut album, we thought we should show everything we had been preparing and training for to not have any regrets.

If we’re being honest, with our second album, because our first album had received tremendous support, and we had attracted the interest of more people, we did feel a little more pressure. But we decided to think of this pressure positively and tried to transform that into our own unique energy to convey in our album.

When compared to the first album, Treasure EP 2: Zero To One was also darker, more edgy. The pictures also suggested a more controlling persona of the members as opposed to the freedom that we saw in the first album. You said that this is the members’ alter ego that holds them back. Do you have any such fears or worries which they feel will hold them back?

Wooyoung: Although we show our bright, boy-next-door charms off the stage, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have a tough time transitioning to our on-stage personas come show time. We really think offstage ATEEZ and onstage ATEEZ are all one.

Mingi and Hongjoong, you worked on both the albums during writing and production. Did you notice any difference in yourself when working on the second album as opposed to the first? What do you feel like you’ve learned?

Hongjoong: There were so many things I learned along the way that it’s difficult for me to pinpoint just one. While working on the second album, I paid more attention to crafting our story that was introduced in our first album. I focused a lot on the details. The second album, I think, deeply showed our colors.

Mingi: I think we were able to work on our second album in a freer manner. Our recording skill improved because we were constantly getting feedback from our producers and engineers. It’s also difficult for me to pick just one thing that I’ve learned throughout this process, I feel like there was just so much that I learned.

With the involvement that you two have in producing, what kind of vision do you have for ATEEZ’s music in the future?

Hongjoong: This is something that is important to us right now as well, but I want to show ATEEZ’s colors and deliver music that we can only produce at this time and point in our lives and ages.

Mingi: I think one of our strengths is that we have our own fresh and unique color. One thing that is important moving forward is that we keep our music trendy yet classic even as generations change.

You’ve been with each other for so long, but now that you’ve debuted, how do you keep the team spirit going?

San: Whenever we have free time, we talk a lot amongst ourselves. And once a week, we make sure we all come together and have a team talk. That’s when we share candid thoughts about both good and bad things that happened during promotions, or in our dorm. I think it’s because we communicate like this that we are able to maintain our team spirit and unity.

I remember reading that you all also evaluate each other’s performances and progress. How does that work?

Yunho: Because we’re all well-aware of each others’ strengths and weaknesses, we give each other honest comments so that each member is able to show their strengths on stage.

Wooyoung: Rather than “evaluating” each other, we usually give feedback by saying things like, “What if we try that move this way?” or, “What if we went in this direction instead?”

There have been some tough moments in your journey. How do you deal with those?

Hongjoong: Before, I would relieve stress by listening to music and having some quiet time to myself. But lately, I’ve been relieving stress by reforming old clothes. Also, whenever I go through tough times, I spend time with my members and talk with them.

Everything has happened really fast for you guys. How do you keep yourself grounded? How do you keep it real?

Wooyoung: We have our ATINY who care and cheer for us no matter what. I don’t think there’s a better motivation than that. Even when we were making preparations for our album, we worked harder whenever we thought of our ATINY waiting for us.

What inspires you all?

Hongjoong: My greatest inspiration is ATINY. Even before debuting, I wrote the song “From” while thinking about our fans that we would hopefully meet. These days, I feel like I’ve been taking in inspiration from everywhere.

If you had to introduce your music to someone who has never heard you, which song would you recommend to them and why?

Yeosang: “My Way,” a b-side on our first album. It’s a song that contains hopeful and encouraging lyrics like, “No matter what anyone else says, I’m going to go my way.” You can listen to it when you’re going through a tough time or even when you’re really happy. It’s a versatile song that I recommend!

San: “Promise,” a b-side on our second album. I personally feel like it’s a song where you can hear the strengths of our vocalists and rappers.

Your albums are called Treasure EP 1 and Treasure EP 2. Is there a Part 3 coming up? Can we expect a trilogy?

Yunho: Although we can’t share too much about our upcoming work just yet, if I were to give you a hint, EP 1 means everybody’s individual starting point and EP 2 has the meaning that everyone meets at 0 for a fresh start together. So, our next album must contain a story that we want to share, right? I’ll stop here.

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