ATEEZ Break the Limit

ATEEZ Break the Limit

Story by Crystal Bell / Photography by Szilveszter Mako / Styling by Lisa Jarvis / Set design by Krzysztof Katus / Makeup by Seulji Li / Hair by Dayeong Jeong / Props by Edith Di Monda

Of all the elements ATEEZ brought to the Coachella stage — including their burning passion, incendiary charisma, bedazzled skull canes and lack of clothing — the giant inflatable Kraken was a visual spectacle only they could pull off. (Did any other artists bring blow-up tentacles to the desert? No.) The mythical sea monster is part of their pirate lore, a narrative thread that runs through their prolific oeuvre. When Seonghwa unsheathed his sword in front of eager festival-goers and slayed the leviathan in a thrilling display of drama, it underscored the group's ability to transform their mythos into captivating performances.

"We've always been seen as a group that is very strong in our performance," Mingi tells PAPER from Los Angeles the Monday morning after Coachella's first weekend. Dressed in a plain white button-up with his bleach blond fringe casually pushed back, the 24-year-old rapper looks somewhat like the man who stormed the Coachella stage in a low-cut Valentino top with "Fix On" (his gravelly rap signature) scrawled messily across his bare chest. Soon, he'll change into something slightly more colorful for ATEEZ's PAPER shoot. But this is off-duty Mingi: fresh-faced and still buzzing from the high vibrations of the last 72 hours.

Clothing: COS

Mingi describes the festival as the ultimate learning experience, a chance to watch other artists perform and get inspiration. (A video of him vibing to Korean rock band The Rose's Sunday afternoon set alongside San, Hongjoong and Seonghwa went viral among fans. "I hung out with The Rose and was able to talk to the members," he says, his smile spreading. The Rose also watched their historic performance the Friday prior.) The weekend made him think about the impact he hopes ATEEZ makes. "We wanted to show that same high energy, not just to [their fans] ATINY but to everybody else," he says. As Mingi talks, he becomes easily distracted by the animations that flutter across the screen when he makes spontaneous gestures on camera — and as a result, he can't stop making hearts with his hands.

Clothing: Craig Green

For quiet Yeosang, now wearing a simple black t-shirt and blue jeans, seeing ATINY in the front row inside the Sahara Tent was the most memorable moment of the entire festival. (He returned early to Los Angeles with Wooyoung, Yunho and Jongho to rest and recover.) "To think that ATINY were all at the front was so moving, and we're so thankful for that," he says. "Because to be in that first row by the barricade means that you had to arrive early and be there from the very beginning [of the day]."

These ride-or-die fans trended the hashtag "CHELLATEEZ" both weekends, in addition to posting side-by-side images of the members taken years apart with the quote "from the Sahara to the Sahara" — a reference to the group's origins. In 2018, they filmed the music videos for their pre-release single "Pirate King" and their official debut "Treasure" on Morocco’s wind-blown desert sands. "Now we are on the Sahara stage at Coachella," Hongjoong adds. His vibrant red hair is now slightly faded to a lush rose. "That means so many things to me. So that's why I got emotional at midnight after the stage." Fans got emotional, too. Some, over little things, like the ever-present smile on Wooyoung's face and San's impenetrable confidence on stage. But many expressed an overwhelming feeling of pride. As one YouTube commenter wrote following the group's post-performance livestream: "Mark my words guys Coachella is their turning point."

Clothing: Craig Green

The foundation of any relationship between an artist and their fans is mutual admiration and a shared emotional connection. To understand ATEEZ, you must first watch how they move.

What makes them eight of the most generation-defining talents in K-pop goes beyond their sharp precision and seemingly inexhaustible energy; it's how they express themselves on stage. They're fierce showmen and masterful storytellers. Hongjoong, the group's charismatic leader, embodies a chameleonic persona defined by theatricality, flamboyance and emotional depth. Seonghwa's graceful fluidity conveys a profound sense of feeling. Yunho demonstrates dynamism and technical prowess, while multifaceted San performs as if he's possessed by some feral dancing demon. Yeosang, a maestro of subtlety, pulls you into his orbit with a single look. Rapper Mingi is all fire and intensity, and Wooyoung is equal parts playful and tenacious. The youngest member, Jongho, wields a stentorian voice so affecting that it lingers long after the music stops.

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Such virtuosity hasn't gone unnoticed. Late last year, their album THE WORLD EP.FIN : WILL bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, becoming their first project to top the chart. In a few months, they'll hit up stadiums across North America for their “[TOWARDS THE LIGHT : WILL TO POWER]” world tour. And on a windy Friday evening in Indio, California, they became the first K-pop boy group to perform at Coachella — a testament to their growing influence in the global music industry. As the first, they felt a responsibility not to prove themselves to a foreign audience but to showcase their identity authentically.

"Our main thought was, 'Let's show exactly who ATEEZ are,'" Wooyoung tells PAPER. It was crucial to highlight the qualities that have defined the band since their debut: energy, power and unpredictability that can sometimes veer into complete chaos. Their discography is laden with hype tracks. Last summer's "BOUNCY (K-HOT CHILLI PEPPERS)" entranced listeners with its big, bold synths and ooey-gooey pitched-up hook, and follow-up EDM banger "Crazy Form" further exemplified the band's bombastic and genre-fluid style. Earlier hits like "WONDERLAND," "Guerilla" and "HALAZIA" fused their eye for mythmaking with a maelstrom of explosive beats, razor-sharp rap verses, and blistering performances that, to quote "Guerilla," sonically "break the wall." (“Bulldoze into oblivion” is more accurate.)

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They know that their music is often miscategorized as "noise" — however, that misunderstood term only flattens their edge. "I want to break that preconception," Hongjoong says. He speaks English throughout our conversation, resulting from his hard work and determination to learn the language to better communicate with the group's international fans. "ATEEZ's music is really energetic and powerful, and someone might think it's just noise. But I want to show them, 'See, it's different.'"

ATEEZ dedicated roughly two weeks to rehearsing for the Coachella stage, meticulously refining every aspect of their show. Mingi describes their approach as taking the best performances from their repertoire and dissecting them detail by detail to ensure a good time on stage. In selecting their setlist for Coachella, ATEEZ focused on songs that would resonate with a festival audience, like volcanic crowd-pleaser "HALA HALA," in which they break their necks as part of the choreography. Yunho explains that they chose songs based on their suitability for a festival atmosphere. "Each song was selected in order for us to show the best," the soft-spoken dancer says. "Not just [the best of] K-pop but [the best of] our abilities onstage."

Clothing: Craig Green

It's hard to imagine any band as busy as ATEEZ. Amid Coachella and tour prep, they're also releasing their new mini-album, GOLDEN HOUR : Part. 1, on May 31. The concept photos for the EP, with their soft, warm tones, evoke a gentle breeze, like the calm after the storm. Its title, GOLDEN HOUR, hints at a moment of transition, reflecting where ATEEZ currently stands — on the brink of change. This realization brings a sense of clarity. Now that the literal and metaphorical dust has settled after their Coachella experience, ATEEZ do seem more enlightened.

For Seonghwa, his trust in his members has never been more vital. "I have such confidence in them that we could go into this with absolutely no fear," he says. "If I were to do this alone, I would have been a lot more nervous and anxious about things, but because it was the eight of us … when I look back on our time preparing for [this moment], they're very beautiful memories." Yeosang also feels like Coachella fortified their bond and team dynamic. "Every member contributes so much," he adds, "and no matter how difficult or how hard it may be, they will always put their every bit of effort in because when you look at the other members, you can't help but see someone working so hard that you naturally want to work just as hard."

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"There's a level of trust and confidence that we have in each other through the experience," Hongjoong says. But there's also a deep level of trust they have within themselves. San, sitting stoically beside their leader, felt that most of all. On stage, he bottles up his emotions and focuses solely on what's needed from him in the present. "After the shows, that's when I want to feel everything," he says. "And then it just hits me," a tidal wave of emotion.

The last few months have also made them think a lot about success and what it means to them. ATEEZ have already accomplished so much, yet they never want to stop reaching for more.

They each have varying but significant definitions of success at this point in their careers. Mingi dreams of headlining Coachella, while Yeosang finds success in the journey alongside ATINY, appreciating each stage as a milestone in their shared path. Wooyoung reflects on the happiness derived from being together with all eight members, seeing their collective journey as a cumulative success. "Being able to perform together for a long time would be what I define as success," he says sagely.

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For Yunho, success is found in the more mundane moments, cherishing the journey with ATINY and focusing on the present wins rather than future fears. San's definition of success is simple yet profound: “If you ask somebody, ‘Who do you listen to nowadays?' I want them to say, 'ATEEZ.'"

Seonghwa and Jongho think of success as continuing to perform with the same level of passion and energy, regardless of the venue or size of the audience. "It’s important to do well, but one of the things that I learned at Coachella is that for others to have fun, I should be having the most fun," Seonghwa says. Next to him, Jongho adds, "Each stage is important, and we always perform with the idea that there is no tomorrow." To emphasize Jongho's dedication to his craft, he says he hightailed it out of the desert because he booked a vocal lesson in Los Angeles for the following day. "Of course, it feels great when people praise me and tell me that I've done so well," he says. "Personally, there are things that I feel like I'm lacking a little bit in, so I would like to continuously improve.”

Clothing: Craig Green

Meanwhile, Hongjoong is most grateful for ATINY, acknowledging that their support has enabled ATEEZ to achieve milestones like Coachella and their upcoming stadium tour. He only hopes to make them proud through their music. However, he's adamant that success is not measured in accolades and firsts.

"Honestly, it's not important to me," Hongjoong says. "We, ATEEZ, just want to go higher and higher every time. That's why we try so hard on stage. The title [of being the first] is not that important to us. If only one more person wants to go to our show after Coachella, that's more meaningful." It's just another chapter in their tale, and they know better than anyone that true magic lies in the adventure, not the destination.

Photography: Szilveszter Mako
Styling: Lisa Jarvis
Set design: Kryzysztof Katus
Props design: Edith Di Monda
Makeup design: Seulji Li
Hair design: Dayeong Jeong

Executive photo production: Siyan Chen
Photo assist: Gianluca Malavolta, Levi Berlin
Styling assist: Dominik Radomsky, Tara Boyette
Hair staff: Nari Ju
Makeup staff: Mi Yeon Song
Production assist: Ricardo Diaz, Abi Lorenzini
Props design assist: Bianca Ruggi
Location: The Ivory Space

Editor-in-chief: Justin Moran
Managing editor: Matt Wille
Editorial producer: Angelina Cantú
Music editor: Erica Campbell
Cover type: Jewel Baek
Story: Crystal Bell