Billboard was with ATEEZ as the group met fans face-to-face at an album "fansign" event -- a rare K-pop moment to witness a time when the only photographers around are the fans themselves and everyone in the room gets one-on-one time with each member. Fans buy albums, sometimes multiple albums, from different retailers in hopes a lottery-ticket number attached to the album grants them access to these intimate events to get an album signed, ask the artist a question or get to share some words with their idol.
While K-pop fans are too often get characterized by tired descriptions like "screaming" and "overzealous," this was a remarkably calm experience with ATEEZ fans (known affectionately as ATINY) quietly talking and laughing with one another, or waiting to snap the perfect shot of their favorite member, before it was their turn to say hello. ATEEZ themselves revelled in the moment too, sharing loads of smiles and hand holding with their supporters, and making sure to wave or wink to the waiting audience members during their free moments. Not only was the fansign an eye-opening experience of how K-pop fans aren't the pile of clichés tacked onto them, but ATEEZ also has loads of excited -- yet respectful -- fans right at home more than eager to support Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Mingi, Yunho, San, Yeosang, Wooyoung and Jongho.
Backstage before meeting their supporters, ATEEZ spoiled Billboard with hidden messages found inside their album, what to look out for on their upcoming tour and how they really feel about their underdog status in the group's latest chat led by their English-speaking leader Hongjoong but with contributions from each member via a translator.
Billboard: Congratulations on your return with Treasure Epilogue: Answer to Action. How's everyone feeling in the midst of promotions?
Seonghwa: I'm very happy that we're able to continuously meet our ATINYs and continuously all be together. We're all honestly so thankful.
"Answer" has a really strong message that I feel is representative of ATEEZ as the new year begins. Can you talk to me about the messages you're trying to share?
Wooyoung: "Answer" has a very celebratory tone and concept within the album. Even in the lyrics themselves there's a part where it's like "bulleo bulleo," or "call me call me" in Korean, and we're calling our ATINYs but also trying to declare that it's going to be a good year. But there is also something that's sort of like a teaser in it, but we can't reveal what it is exactly.
Hongjoong: Well, the hints are in the music videos itself, look closely at the intro and outro parts because there's a hidden message and some hints in there...
San: "White man!" The white man.
Hongjoong: We give you many hints and this is one.
Let's talk about the music video. I loved how you faced your former selves from the "HALA HALA" video. I've seen a lot of theories, but in your own words can you explain what that represented?
Yeosang: As you saw and mentioned, our ATEEZ members kind of meet our "HALA HALA" selves, this is actually another hint or teaser that this is going to be the beginning of another journey.
Hongjoong: This is the first time that "HALA HALA" ATEEZ are meeting "original ATEEZ."
Fair enough. I want to talk about some other songs on Epilogue album too and how they connect throughout the Treasure series. I feel like "Horizon" is a continuation of past songs like "Aurora" and "Sunrise," is there a theme here that connects them all?
Hongjoong: "Horizon" was a song that I worked on as a trainee, so I've actually had to keep it for awhile. It might be kind of a reach to say that it is a continuation of the other songs like "Aurora" and "Sunrise," but there are messages that are in "Horizon" that expand on what was shared in those songs -- it's all in my head. I got inspiration with the "pirate king" theme even when I was training.
I was also happy to hear "Precious" as a full song. We heard a snippet of it as the "Precious (Overture)" from Ep.Fin and it has a similar start to "Treasure" in Ep.2, it feels like this song must be really special to ATEEZ?
Hongjoong: The melody is the same and the lyrics are a bit different in this version, but it was intended to kind of use the same melody. The end part is different there to show how I don't know what the future holds but foreshadows something that will happen. Speaking conceptually, beginning with "Treasure" but ending with "Precious," maybe ATEEZ started with treasure because we didn't know what treasure is, but after the long journey, finally, we got the answer. But also that answer is too precious to us so we changed the title from "Treasure" and "Precious." Because the treasure is so precious to ATEEZ and ATINY.
Because if we move to the final song, "Outro : Long Journey," the voice says, "Did you find your treasure? Yes, we have finally found it." So, what was the treasure?
San: The treasure is different for everyone and we believe everyone has a treasure in their heart. So it's difficult to say exactly like, "Oh, this is the treasure for everyone." But for ATEEZ, the treasure is ATINY.
Hongjoong: But we don't want to make an official, official answer to "what is treasure." So I want ATEEZ and ATINY to ask, "What is our treasure? What is my own treasure?"
But then the music changes and the voice shouts, "Let us continue to hope and yearn, though the roaring winds continue to blow, it will not stop us. We are the history. And we will be the one." These are really big statements.
Jongho: They are really important declarations and if I can share one hint, there are two photo cards in their physical album. There's a message on one of the photo cards to show how there are numerous, multiple dimensions -- that's a really important hint. [Members shout excitedly]
Hongjoong: That's a really important hint and this is the first time we're saying this, telling you first!
Jongho: We really like you and we want to tell you lots of hints, but it's not fun if we tell you everything. So we'll just tell you about the dimensions for now and tell you to look at the photo cards.
But of course it's not just about the albums, there's a tour on the way. Billboard exclusively shared how you added more seats to your Map the Treasure World Tour after selling out across the U.S. and Europe. How are you feeling about the reaction?
Mingi: This is our second European and U.S. tour and it seems a lot more fans are very excited for us to come. There's a lot of overwhelming support, but it hasn't really hit us yet. I think once they actually arrive in the States or Europe, it'll hit.
Yunho: We have a lot more tracks and a lot more opportunities since the last tour and during the upcoming tour, we'll be able to show a more upgraded stage and a lot more performances.
For your first tour in the U.S., it was in small theaters. These arenas are really big stages to fill. How do you plan to fill them?
San: We're still learning the choreography. We haven't rehearsed in a similar-sized venue or stage yet, but we're being prepared at our company and in the practice rooms and blocking the stages.
Hongjoong: We can't exactly say if we're bringing back-up dancers or not, but we're considering all kinds of situations for these shows.
Mingi: I guess another hint we can share that one of the main points of the performances during the tour is the mics and how the mics will be use or how they'll be incorporated into the performances will be something to look forward to.
Wooyoung: We'll also reveal new choreography for the first time.?
I also saw you guys talk about how you've noticed you're getting a strong reaction from overseas fans, but not seeing the same from Korea. Can you expand on that? Is it frustrating? Does it give you inspiration?
Seonghwa: So, we do feel with every promotion that our Korean fanbase is slowly increasing and we do get inspired from that. It serves as inspiration for us to work harder on the next music, band together as eight and prepare even harder on the next comeback.
Hongjoong: I saw the articles and things written on Twitter about this subject so I know exactly what the question is about. We're not really bothered by it and we're not going to change our plans or upcoming projects because the reactions or lack thereof; we have a lot of albums we've been steadily preparing for and we're following that plan. Whatever the reaction is, we're not trying to bend to it and have a more positive one. We're going to keep doing what we're doing. But we'll prove ourselves and prove that you were right to support us.
It's still early in the year, do you guys have any New Year's resolutions or any other messages to send to fans?
Wooyoung: If we set a resolution right now and we end up not meeting it, we'll get disappointed. So, instead of saying a specific resolution, our goal is to become a better, more developed, more mature ATEEZ than the year before 2019 and be able to meet more ATINYs.
San: We want to also let more people around the world know that there is a group called ATEEZ and be able to meet them.
Hongjoong: We're really excited about the world tour, we want to make great shows for ATINY. And this message isn't specifically related to ATEEZ, but we're really concerned about the huge fires in Australia right now. We're worrying and heartbroken for people who have been affected, the animals, the natural resources, the land, everything. ATEEZ is hoping for things to end and recover soon.