“Maybe we’re living younger, that’s why we’re fever,” ATEEZ’s Seonghwa and Yunho declared on last year’s ‘Fever’. That one line encapsulated the heart of the wider project the track sat on – the ‘Zero: Fever Pt. 1’ EP, the first stop in the prequel to their ‘Treasure’ series – which spoke to both the eight-piece band’s passion and the often intense and confusing situations that face youth these days.
Seven months later, that sentiment arises again in the second part of the series. This time, it’s not explicitly spoken like before, but still burns its way through each song. ATEEZ have described the idea of “fever” as one of chasing their dreams and overcoming the obstacles they might come up against and, on ‘Zero: Fever Pt. 2’, they stretch out a hand to guide us over those stumbling blocks too.
The EP is split into two approaches. Title track ‘Fireworks (I’m The One)’ introduces the first in fierce form, its chorus full of relentless determination and headstrong attitude. “Right now we are just like fireworks / Don’t stop me, don’t stop me,” it goes as bass wobbles beneath and a dense EDM tapestry builds. ‘The Leaders’ picks up where it leaves off. “Cut in line, but we’re always in the front,” leader Hongjoong raps over the dark and powerful track, before the beats drop out and he mutters sternly: “I’ll be your teacher until now.”
Conversely, though, much of ATEEZ’s first 2021 release offers comfort and support. On the gospel-indebted ‘Celebrate’, San asks: “How do you feel when you face the mirror? / Congratulations for being born as you.” It’s a soulful ode to learning to love yourself and celebrating your uniqueness, as Yeosang reinforces later on. “You’re the one, only one,” he raps. “From 7billion, only one.”
On the breezy ‘Time Of Love’, the group delve into summery synth-pop, matching its bright melodies with a lesson in how to make the world a better place. “Everyone feels pain the same way,” Wooyoung explains, as Seonghwa asks us to make a promise to be kinder: “Let’s tell each other ‘I won’t hurt you’”. It’s a message that might seem corny on paper, but in ATEEZ’s hands becomes a much-needed blast of positivity. It’s the band themselves who are in need of this reassurance on ‘Take Me Home’, which journeys back to both the ’80s via a sax solo reminiscent of George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ and The Weeknd’s 2020 album ‘After Hours’. “Somebody take me home,” sighs Seonghwa. “I don’t wanna be alone.”
Over their six previous Korean releases, ATEEZ have made a name for themselves as the experimenters of K-pop’s fourth generation. That attitude shines through here too, the band rarely shying away from trying something new. Some things work better than others and it’s usually when they keep things simple and uncluttered that they strike gold. ‘Celebrate’’s optimistic sound and the noir R&B gleam of ‘Take Me Home’ are instant winners – polished, clean and immediate. The hodgepodge of ‘The Leaders’ though – which skitters between whispered pre-choruses, rickety rhythms and a cacophony of gun shots – is unfocused and jumbled; like a collage of songs cut-and-pasted together.
Ultimately, ‘Zero: Fever Pt. 2’ isn’t ATEEZ’s best release so far but it does keep up their curious streak, sending them blazing through new territory. In its passion, there is promise and if they can overcome the hurdles it presents them with, they should be able to continue on their path as one of K-pop’s most interesting young bands.
- Release date: March 1
- Record label: KQ Entertainment