It’s late afternoon in L.A., and eight-member Korean boy band Ateez is wrapping up a day of back-to-back press. Soon, they’ll head out for a fan signing across town, where their fans — collectively known as Atiny, a synthesis of Ateez and destiny — will get an opportunity to meet the band during their latest trip stateside.
“Hi! I’m good, how are you?” Hongjoong, Ateez’s leader, offers a spirited greeting as he logs onto Zoom, fresh from a photo shoot. The 24-year-old rapper and singer, who writes the majority of the group’s lyrics, rolls into frame with a pair of pearl Balmain sunglasses perched atop his head.
Ateez was in L.A. for the latest edition of KCon, a festival celebrating Korean culture and music. “The U.S. is really kind of my second hometown. When I visit the U.S., I always think it’s so comfortable,” says Hongjoong of the band’s time stateside.
The group has spent much of the past year on the road. They’re currently wrapping up the “The Fellowship : Break the Wall” world tour, which kicked off last year in Seoul and has since taken them to cities throughout Asia, Europe, North America and South America. The group, which debuted in 2018 under the relatively small label KQ Entertainment, has released 10 EPs — two in the past year alone — and a studio album.
The work is paying off: Ateez is regarded as one of the leading 4th Gen K-pop boy groups, and as Ateez’s international fan base grows, so does the group’s influence outside of music. Like many K-pop stars, Hongjoong is finding himself increasingly called toward fashion, a natural extension given the highly visual aspect of an onstage career.
On Zoom, the singer is still dressed in a look from Balmain’s fall men’s collection, a white asymmetric jacket paired with black pants, a style he first saw in person as a guest at the brand’s presentation in Paris earlier this year. The singer, who met Olivier Rousteing backstage, notes that he was surprised to learn that the creative director was already familiar with his work. Harping on the link between music and fashion, Hongjoong is quick to highlight the synergies between his own approach to songwriting and Rousteing’s approach to design.
“When I met Olivier, we talked a lot about our style and his mindset,” says Hongjoong, adding that he was inspired by Rousteing’s ability to add his distinct perspective to the established fashion house. “These days I think about that when I make music or when I write lyrics: how to make it my own way,” he says. “First I think about what I want to say, and then how to make that message cooler to our audience or fans.”
As a group, Ateez has cultivated a toughness within their music and look. “When on the stage, I fall into that character every time. With my outfit too, if the song is really hard or tough, I want to make my character hard and tough. So that’s why I wear dark clothes and a lot of jewelry,” says Hongjoong. “But also I put my own opinion in there; it’s not only tough, there is some elegance.”
Hongjoong notes that Ateez has been greeted with “lots of love” and enthusiasm during their latest trip to L.A.
For some L.A.-based Atiny members, their “destiny” of getting to meet Ateez was realized through participation in a recent “Bouncy Challenge” dance performance in Griffith Park, led by the group. “I get a lot of inspiration from [our fans] because they’re all good dancers and good singers. Our worldwide fans, too,” he adds.
The social media-primed choreography stems from the music video for “Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers),” the frenetic title track on Ateez’s latest six-track mini album “The World EP.2: Outlaw.” The music video, which casts the band as cinematic “outlaws” — cowboys, boxers — is nearing 100 million views on YouTube since its release earlier this summer.
After L.A., the group was headed to Mexico and South America — their next concert is in Santiago on Aug. 30 — followed by Singapore and the Philippines in mid-September, where they will close out their latest tour leg.
Before reuniting with the rest of Ateez to head out for their fan signing, Hongjoong brings the conversation back to fashion, noting that he has high aspirations. “I want to study design, and someday I want to try to be a designer to make my own fashion line,” he says. “That’s one of my goals.”
Hongjoong also notes a promise he made to Ateez fans at the beginning of the year: more performances and more music. “These days, we’re really trying hard to make new music and make new things with our members,” he says, adding that in his off-time he’s been adding to his creative arsenal — taking guitar lessons, for example — while ensuring that he’s able to stay healthy and bring his all to each performance.
“I want to show our fans and audience that Ateez can do more things, and Ateez can go higher,” he says. “I think that there will be a far future.”