If you wander into K-Pop stan territory on Twitter, you’ll likely find a debate about who the leaders of the phenomenon’s 4th generation are. Tonight ATEEZ plead their case as they take over London’s massive O2 arena, becoming the first of their generation to play here, and only the fourth group to do so overall.
In the company of some of K-Pop’s biggest players, the other three groups to play the 20,000-capacity venue are the no-introductions-necessary BTS, SM Entertainment’s boy-group-best-of SuperM, and most recently, the biggest girl group in the world, Blackpink. These are undoubtedly big shoes to fill.
Not that this phases the ATEEZ boys, they deliver and then some. It’s their third time in the capital, rising rapidly after playing Kentish Town Forum in 2019, and Wembley Arena last year, a rescheduled show that was originally planned for 2020. You’d imagine their ascent would’ve been even faster if it wasn’t interrupted by the pandemic.
So the house lights go down, thousands of Atiny (that’s their fandom name, FYI) light sticks make the arena glow instead, and there’s some serious decibels when the boys walk on stage. They make their way down the runway and drop their black cloaks, kicking off with ‘New World’, the rumbling closer track from the EP they’re touring (that’s ‘THE WORLD EP1: MOVEMENT’ BTW). Featuring the chorus lyric “Can’t you feel the storm? Can’t you see me now?”, it’s a statement only amplified by the fact there’s confetti cannons opening the show with them.
The show is loosely split into four acts across its almost three hour run time (yes, blimey), divided by costume changes and VTs consisting of moody shots of the group that garner almost as many screams as when they’re actually on stage. Following a bombastic opening section that ends with early hit ‘HALA HALA’ – a track with such razor sharp choreography, the shots of ATEEZ performing it in real time are spliced with the music video – they get the ballad section out of the way early.
After all, this performance is clearly a marathon not a sprint, so the trio of slower tempo numbers ‘Dazzling Light’, ‘Mist’ and ‘Sunrise’ feels like merely the calm before the storm. ATEEZ’s versatility is never to be underestimated either. After standing behind the mics in white deconstructed suits for the belting section, they bounce into a pair of summer bangers, ‘Illusion’ and ‘Wave’, slinging beach balls into the audience.
All of this is just teasing though, the best is still yet to come. The boys return to the stage for act three, clad in what looks like latex combat gear. It’s in this run that their signature sound really thrives. Aggressive electronic beats, pounding marching band drums, snarling verses from the pair of rappers Hongjoong and Mingi, incredible belting vocals from youngest member Jongho which cut through it all. These hits – 2021’s ‘I’m The One’ and ‘ROCKY’, plus debut album lead single ‘WONDERLAND’ – belong on huge stages like this one.
ATEEZ actually getting to perform at a venue as big as this is a feat in itself – a real win for the underdogs of K-Pop. Coming from a far smaller company than their immediate competitors (i.e. not one of the ‘big four’ with a huge legacy behind it), they’ve always worked like they had something to fight for, and the payoff is immense.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer stamina involved in a production like this, the ferocious dancing and moving between the big stage and a smaller one at the end of a runway is knackering alone, but to it all while performing is another thing (any doubts as to whether or not they’re singing live are waived when member San’s head mic fails during ‘Illusion’ and he’s passed a second one to continue performing).
As with most K-Pop groups, consistent fan devotion has likely carried ATEEZ to the top, but here, it’s easy to see what they’re praying at the altar of. The appreciation is mutual too, the group thanking the fans for their support at every opportunity, the fans screaming “I LOVE YOU” every time a member lifts their mic to talk (they also sometimes literally bark). When the show closes pre-encore with ‘Guerrilla’, a career highlight level track that the tour’s ‘Break The Wall’ concept is based on, the screams from the crowd as they join in with that lyric are deafening.
Regardless of who the leaders of the fourth generation actually are, one thing is for sure: if the rest of the groups are of the same calibre as ATEEZ, the industry is in very safe hands.