Ateez are one of South Korea’s most successful K-pop exports, and it’s easy to see why when witnessing them perform at London’s O2 Arena, even if the whole phenomenon is rather unnerving.
The shrieking started before anyone appeared on stage. Rabid, insatiable, blood-curdling screams, induced only by flashes of Ateez members on the big screen and some dramatic music.
By the time the eight heartthrobs appeared on stage in person, the individual shrieks were indistinguishable among a rapturous sea of teenage girls.
I found the sheer intensity of the support surprising, but it was soon easy to understand how this K-pop group is so popular. It’s eight very handsome blokes, with different but genuine skill sets, making palatable, catchy modern pop music. They dance, they sing, they rap, they joke.
The show, which is known as The Fellowship: Break The Wall, is all very playful; just about suggestive enough to inspire adulation without ever being overtly sexual enough to cause offence. It’s perfectly manicured teenage entertainment, which is by no means a criticism. It’s a compliment. The result is undeniably fanatical.
Ateez’s army of fans – and it is a genuine army, the majority seemingly on the cusp of full-blown martyrdom – is known as ‘Atiny’. The name was coined by forming the name Ateez with the word ‘destiny’, signifying the fact that ‘Ateez’s future is together with their fans’.
Products of the K-pop phenomenon, Ateez are well aware of the role of the fans in their success. The eight superstars are constantly smiling, winking or waving, referencing their Atiny legion, who, in turn, respond like Beliebers and One Directioners combined, and on steroids.
“I forget what it’s like to be lonely,” the band’s captain, Hoonjong, said at one point, “because even when we’re apart, we’re together.” More shrieks, more screams, more torches in the air. The point of connectivity is an important one, simply because of how efficiently Ateez utilises social media.
Across the eight members, there is nearly non-stop information for fans who, you have to imagine, develop a dependence on the drip-fed Ateez content. The steady stream of digital connectivity makes nights like these even more extraordinary, the rare occasions when fans are able to come face-to-face with people they see every day.
In fairness to Ateez, the intensity goes both ways. Within minutes you could see each of them drenched in sweat and their commitment doesn’t wane over the near three hour duration of the show.
There are broadly four different acts to the show, broken up by a series of cinematic interludes, and despite surely knowing the support is fervent regardless, the band are never complacent while on stage.
The songs were individually longer than I’d expected, and the style far more eclectic. Hong-joong and Min-gi – the token, moody bad boy – take care of the rapping. Jong-ho is the main singer, often rising from the other seven like a tenor to boom out a chorus. The remaining five roles are a bit more vague, spanning dancing, vocals and rap, but of course whenever Seong-hwa, Yun-ho, Yeo-sang, San or Woo-young appear, the same shrieking continues.
Over the course of the event, I saw two young girls pass out. Each time security was on hand to wade into the crowd and drag the unconscious bodies towards fresh air, the other onlookers heeding Ateez’s early advice to make sure the concert remained safe.
Immediate health and safety aside, I suppose there is an argument to whether or not the K-pop obsession is healthy, but the Ateez show cannot be judged on that alone. Not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps, The Fellowship: Break The Wall is still a night of terrific entertainment for fans of Ateez, who packed the O2 right to the rafters.