ATEEZ have just played a raucous show to 20,000 fans at London’s O2 Arena. Backstage, with the adrenalin still pumping, Hongjoong, Seonghwa, Yeosang, Mingi, San, Wooyoung, Yunho and Jongho are talking about football. Mingi, deep-voiced, his cropped hair cotton candy pink, is a Chelsea fan. Jongho, the band’s youngest at 22, follows Spurs. “Which is better?” asks Mingi. My tentative, uninformed guess (“Spurs?”) yields triumphant hoots and disappointed groans, as Jongho reaches over for a fist bump and hi-five. This exchange isn’t so much about football, as it is a reflection of ATEEZ wanting to make everyone they encounter feel welcome – a habit unchanged despite their stratospheric rise through the global pop landscape since debuting in late 2018.
During their week-long stay, they meet fans (known as ATINY) at a signing event, make late-night TikToks beneath the glow of Big Ben, go live on YouTube from a cosy corner of a hotel room, and watch South Korean forward Son Heungmin score at a Tottenham Hotspur game. The club’s home stadium (soon to host Beyoncé’s five London concerts) leaves a lasting impression on Yeosang: “When I saw how big it was and how loud the people were, I thought about how I want to be an artist that can play there,” he says in his slightly raspy voice. Wooyoung’s thoughts, however, linger Stateside in the wake of their most recent EP, Spin Off: From The Witness, earning them a second Top 10 entry on the Billboard 200 in early January. “I don’t know if it’s a team goal or my own,” he admits, “but I do want a #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hoping for it to happen is the easy part, but what’s necessary is the confidence and bravery in the belief that it will happen.”