By Pen Fang
Wake up wake up, world are you there? It’s time lies control rules numb hatred emptiness lies surveillance control repression rules numb emptiness contradict selfishness betray surveillance cruelty are you seeing this? Eyes in the sky.
— “PROPAGANDA” (from THE WORLD EP.1: MOVEMENT)
ATEEZ is a 8-member K-Pop group under KQ entertainment. It consists of eight members: Seonghwa, Hongjoong, Yunho, Yeosang, San, Mingi, Wooyoung, and Jongho, with Hongjoong being the designated leader. They debuted in 2018 with the track “Pirate King,” part of the first of their TREASURE album series. In total, they have released 9 EPS and one full Korean album, comprising the aforementioned TREASURE series, as well as the FEVER series and ongoing THE WORLD series.
Their lore has been heavily planned by KQ and each additional album release fits into the lore somewhere, meaning that the album and MV release order does not necessarily reflect the chronological order of events in the universe. To flesh out said lore, ATEEZ utilizes music videos, written stories (e.g. their diary entries), performances (e.g. their performances on MNET’s Kingdom), lyrics, choreography, fan theories, and more.
Let’s begin with established, canonical events: the diary entries and films of the FEVER and THE WORLD series. ATEEZ begins in Dimension A (sort of the present timeline in the “real” world) where they meet and become friends, exploring their passion for music. The diary entries and film from ZERO: FEVER Part.1 develop their backstory and their connection to music, with most finding an escape or freedom in it. Some highlights that relate to major later plot points include Yunho, who is using music to honor his late brother’s dream and Jongho, who finds a new life through music after he cannot play basketball due to injury. It is revealed in the outro from the album that ATEEZ at some point parts ways and Hongjoong, the leader, is left alone in the ATEEZ warehouse. It is revealed that he begins dreaming of a man wearing a black fedora; in one of these dreams, the man in the fedora offers him a Cromer, an ancient hourglass-shaped device that works based off of the phases of the moon. (Note: The Cromer is used to travel across time and universes, though the exact details of how it works have not yet been revealed.
“‘Get rid of the idea that the world you see is everything. There are many dimensions and many realities in this world. The world I am in, the world you are in, are all real.’”
— “Z.Outro” (from ZERO: FEVER Part.1 Diary Entries)
When Hongjoong wakes, he realizes that he is in possession of the Cromer. And when he turns it, the ATEEZ members return to the warehouse. It is implied that they have been transported to another dimension, home to the Strictland (more on that in a bit). But with the return of the members comes the arrival of android guardians seeking the Cromer. And here is where the FEVER Part.1 entries end and FEVER Part.2 picks up. Hongjoong uses a piece of glass to distract the android guardians, pretending it is the Cromer, and the ATEEZ members escape the warehouse. As they rest in the nearby forest, they are attacked again by the guardians; Wooyoung is captured and the members lose the Cromer while trying to rescue him. They are ultimately rescued by the Grimes siblings, a brother and sister, the latter of which whose voice has been taken by the android guardians.
The Grimes siblings explains the new dimension and the Strictland to the ATEEZ members: as a way to prevent people from revolting from the government, laws and AI systems were developed to eliminate human emotion. One of these laws includes the prohibition of art, dance, and music. In this world, an anarchist group called the Black Pirates rose up in spite of this law with the goal to dismantle the system, managing to resist the control over emotions… until they were captured by the android guardians.
To retrieve the Cromer, as well as the Grimes girl’s voice, the ATEEZ members must find the bunker of the android guardians, knowledge which only a man called Left Eye knows. The group splits, with half the group searching a cave in the Strictland dump, one filled with a yellow hallucinogenic smoke, to find the voice, and the other half going to retrieve the information from Left Eye.
It is revealed that Left Eye is the manager of the Strictland. Following his daughter’s death, he fell into despair and sought the illusion of his daughter created by the yellow smoke, allowing the android guardians to manipulate him. The group leads him to a place where the smoke is not as dense, but as his illusion dispels, Left Eye begins to attack the members. Meanwhile, Jongho begins to search the cave. He sees himself playing his basketball game prior to his injury — and begins running towards the edge of a cliff. The diary entries from FEVER Pt.2 conclude here.
“As the government prohibited all kinds of art and exercised control over the new energy trading platform, sensitivity, emotion, and free will gradually faded away, and humanity fell to components for maintaining the world.”
— “A.Intro” (from ZERO: FEVER Part.3 Diary Entries)
FEVER Pt.3 continues right where its predecessor left off: Yeosang manages to give Jongho a gas mask to fight off the smoke and Yunho is able to use his own experience with loss to convince Left Eye to help. The Grimes girl is also able to get her voice back. The group sails toward the android guardian bunker, located in a gallery on an island. When they arrive, ATEEZ see the Black Pirates trapped in glass cages. And upon closer inspection, the Black Pirates appear to be them. (Quick detour: the Black Pirates are commonly referred to as HALATEEZ; “Hala” in front of a member’s name indicates the Black Pirates/HALATEEZ version of that member). Hala Hongjoong tells Hongjoong that ATEEZ must take up the mantel of the Black Pirates and continue their mission. But as ATEEZ prepares to leave, Yeosang is captured by the android guardians, who want the Cromer back. Hongjoong throws the Cromer to the guardians, but Yeosang catches it and smashes it, causing a brilliant flash of light.
When the members come to, they realize they have been transported back in time to their warehouse — but without Yeosang, who is still trapped in the Strictland dimension. The album’s entries conclude as Yeosang’s drone knocks on the warehouse. “We all surely felt it. Yeosang is alive.”
Back in their warehouse, and even farther back in time than when they originally united, the ATEEZ members hear about an attempted robbery of an hourglass that captures lunar movement at the National Museum Korea of South Korea. The intro entry of ZERO: FEVER EPILOGUE reveals that the thieves were part of a religious cult called Sciensalvar, believing human concerns can be resolved by science and that humans are a collection of energy, led by Henry Jo.
The ATEEZ members decide to steal the Cromer to rescue Yeosang. But Yunho objects; when Yeosang broke the Cromer, they were transported to the past—to before Yunho lost his brother. Seven members attempt to steal the Cromer, but Henry Jo (and his cult) reach it first. The members disguise themselves as Sciensalvar members, but as Wooyoung tries to steal the Cromer, Henry Jo takes him hostage (and they also scuffle with the police). ATEEZ are rescued by Yunho, who shows up on a motorcycle and helps the members steal the Cromer and escape. The joy is short-lived as Yunho’s brother’s fatal car crash happens, but he manages to finally gain closure. The members are able to turn the Cromer and escape before Henry Jo can attack them again.
The last entry is from Yeosang’s point of view in the glass cage of the android guardian’s bunker. He reveals that the biological energy has been stolen from resistance members, including the Grimes siblings. He hears a fight between the android guardians and other people — who turn out to be men in black fedoras — and is rescued by Seonghwa.
The Outro follows Left Eye at the resistance bunker, where it is revealed that the Black Pirates are back, thus concluding the FEVER series.
“‘SAY MY NAME. ATEEZ.’”
— The Morse Code message Left Eye receives in “Outro” (from ZERO: FEVER EPILOGUE)
THE WORLD series is ongoing as of the time of writing this, with only EP.1 being released. Rather than member-specific diary entries, the entries are numbered. The intro reveals more about Strictland — the people are controlled by chips under their ears, and it is led by someone called Z. Z is giving a speech, but is interrupted by music and the appearance of Hongjoong wearing a black fedora, and says the name: ATEEZ. The ATEEZ members perform and hand out breakers capable of breaking the chips keeping the Strictland people controlled.
“You are valuable by yourself. No one can define you, and no one can control you. Being alive is imperfect, and it’s beautiful to be imperfect. Read poetry, draw pictures, listen to music, dance, and sing. Therein lies your own answer.”
— “001” (from THE WORLD EP.1: MOVEMENT Diary Entries)
ATEEZ decide to infiltrate the Prestige Academy due to its symbolic influence as the best school of the era and to try and free more people from control at once so that capture of those freed becomes more difficult. To do so, they must install mirrors and remove the window coverings of the school. “A mirror is a window through which one can perceive oneself,” which allows people to recognize themselves becoming aware. Before they can, they meet a boy who heard the Black Pirates’ performance and freed himself. He later tried to free his brother, but his brother felt pained by the emotions. To make the situation worse, his brother was about to take his graduation exam—and failure due to emotions meant being taken to the guardian’s island (bunker). The ATEEZ members are conflicted over the possibility of infiltrating Prestige Academy if they free a different school first. But fortunately, the boy is a student of Prestige Academy, and ATEEZ agree to help, concluding the entries from THE WORLD EP.1 and the established canon.
The TREASURE series is likely also part of a lore, though KQ Entertainment has not yet confirmed where it falls in the timeline. Guesses can be made about where exactly to place it; the same goes with other ATEEZ lore content, such as their Kingdom “Answer” stage depicting Yeosang’s rescue from the bunker.
(Thank you so much to the creators of the ATEEZ lore masterdoc (@hala_loretiny on Twitter) and atiny.net for uploading the diary entries, music video breakdowns, and theories.)
On December 30, 2022, ATEEZ had their latest comeback, Spin Off: From the Witness, with the title track “HALAZIA”. “The title track ‘HALAZIA’ expresses the journey of a small blue bird’s whisper that starts in a cold world until it becomes a desperate cry out in the direction towards the light, and delivers a message about hope within the dark.”
The song itself is nothing short of amazing. My personal favorite parts include the utilization of Yeosang’s deep baritone in the pre-chorus and the chorus before the dance break with the lyrics “no more, keep control” and “no more, keep your soul” interspersed between the vocal “halazia.” The rap verse is also amazing, starting with Hongjoong’s lighter rap with a rhythm that hits just right, followed by Mingi’s more aggressive “who are you?” and hard-hitting rapping. The drop during the chorus sucks the breath out of you before it crescendos to the vocal-driven second half. In other words, it’s a journey of a song, demonstrating how ATEEZ keep bringing their best to K-Pop.
The music video is cinematic and chilling. It is an experience from beginning to end, and as of right now, there is no confirmation as to where it ties into the lore. “It is the same worldview as the worldview that has been progressing up until now but it is a different perspective,” member Hongjoong explained, “I think it would be good to see it as a separate story.”
“The world lost gravity and the people lost emotion. People did nothing but wait for ‘them’ to return. All while knowing that ‘they’ would never appear again. Amidst this desolated hope, the great sound of a bell resonated through the air and a new Eight made their appearance.”
— Text from “SPIN OFF : FROM THE WITNESS Prologue”
The music video and teasers are filled with possible clues to the lore. Hongjoong’s solo scenes where he performs his first rap verse are located in a room with the number “22152984” written on the wall. Seonghwa’s prominent scenes are where he steps in front of a HALATEEZ scarecrow and imitates its pose — while visually glitching in the process. Yunho appears in what seems to be a broken Cromer-shaped object. Yeosang is physically chained during his solo scenes. San grapples with a large metal moon-like object, ultimately pulling it down and possibly sacrificing himself in the process (heavy, heavy emphasis on the word “possibly”). Mingi also appears before the HALATEEZ scarecrow during his rap verse. Wooyoung is seen on top of a building sitting in front of a torn black flag and holding a black fedora. Jongho appears standing amidst a crowd in a rally-esque scene, and is also seen with abnormal eyes. Further key moments include the burning of the HALATEEZ scarecrow and fedora, the overall loss of gravity in the music video, and the ending as indiscernible figures watch San grapple with the metal object and pull it down. In short, there is much, much to think about.
There are so many things to appreciate about ATEEZ’s storyline, but one of my favorites is their appreciation and defense of the arts. The main theme of the Strictland universe is their rebellion against the suppression of art and emotion and the Black Pirates’ goal is connecting and restoring people through music. Art is meaningful, especially for the time it takes and the message it sends, and both ATEEZ and their lore counterparts emphasize that meaning and its beauty, a valuable message in a society that often seems to hold little value for art.