Military uniforms, aggressive choreography and a marching band. ‘Epic!’ Is the first word to spring to mind for the first impression of Ateez’s latest MV “Wonderland”. Released on the 8th of October, it’s an end to their Treasure series. The title track is a grand anthem warning anyone who dares to stop in the boys’ way to their wonderland.

Within nearly a year of debuting, the boys have released 3 EPs, finished a world tour, impressed at multiple K-cons and have now made a comeback with a full album in an explosive and thrilling manner. All very impressive for a young rookie group that is yet to celebrate their first anniversary.

Cleverly, the theme of pirates’ journey to their dream has served Ateez well in painting their journey within a familiar tale. It is an expedition that is full of desires, self-reflection and growth. Now in “Wonderland”, Ateez —dressed in military-style suits — have reached their intended destination and are proclaiming it’s theirs.

Lyrically, “Wonderland” is about charging forward with great conviction towards dreams despite adversities.

You gonna stop here?
There is here what you’ve really looked for oh
Although you can’t come back
Oh, we must going on.

The track is anthemic in tone: a concoction of brass and percussion instrumentals raging forward to a distinct marching band drum beat. Though the concept is not new, it’s experimental in setting a build-up using a combination of sounds and tempos for different purposes. With that, it manages not to conflict each section’s flow, but raises tension and intensity of the atmosphere.

In a very Ateez manner, the chorus is not as climactic as the verses, however, it holds its own with the combination of rallying lyrics, thumping drum beats and tight choreography.

What is really prominent is the pre-chorus slowing the pace of the track giving way to a very memorable and breathy hook.

Let’s go
Let’s go

The switch-up in tempo and instrumentals for each of the verses is an interesting choice. We have seen this used in other songs in some of 2019’s releases, in which the transitions don’t follow through well. However, producer Eden uses the pre-chorus to slow down the track — almost as a reset — for a smooth transition. This allows for the track to flow and not fall in the trap of feeling like a mismatched collective of sounds.

Reflecting the track’s sound, the MV returns Ateez to their signature darker colour tones. There is a play on spot-lighting and a spectrum of flashing lights that stress the warlike temperament.

Uniquely dressed, each member respectively centres a set addressing a challenge for the group. San sits on a dark and atmospheric floral hill stabbed with what looks like the stick end of pirate flags. Seunghwa plays with fire, Yunho faces a wall of TV screens (interpreted as their social image). And most memorably, set in moody hues of purple, Wooyoung sits on a platform bound by countless chains.

Though the MV looks and sets do not follow directly from the pirate theme and narrative, they use symbolism to keep it alive. For instance, black flags carried by San and Jongho reiterate the solemnity of Ateez’s message. A little research shows that plain black flags were commonly used in the 17th and 18th century by pirates to scare off others into surrendering without a fight: sending a message of no mercy if and when attacked. These subtle details keep the continuity to themes Ateez have built from the start of their journey without being cliched and predictable.

Within the whirlwind of the MV, CGI effects were an unexpected feature. Though it wasn’t essential in pushing the intended message further in some scenes, it served well in the cinematic grand finale factor to the MV. Especially, as the members approach the ‘Mordor’ like gates to Wonderland, the picturesque detail added to the mood of the series.

During the “Wonderland” showcase, the group spoke about how hard they worked, practising up to 7 hours daily on choreography alone. The choreography is full of crisp moves with snappy and dynamic executions. Even their facial expressions were in sync with the performance!

The build-up of the track snaps and lets loose to give us an immense dance break overflowing with confidence and swagger, refreshingly lead by Mingi and Yunho centring at certain stages. The marching band was an impactful addition to the performance fuelling the overarching hype factor to the finale of the MV.

After watching and analysing the release, I can’t imagine “Wonderland” will be a song that will be on everyone’s commute playlist, but it sure is a memorable performative piece that rounds the journey up to the finale. It most definitely is a track to look forward to when seeing the group live as the thumping intensity will have an uprising sensation on the audience.

One issue that stood out was the camera work during the final dance break. Whether it was the distance between the group and the camera, the static effects or choice in lighting, some of the members’ performances blended to the background or were missed. For example, San is positioned fairly forward, but some of his moves — which seem important in the sequence of the choreography — were missed because of the distance and the effects used in the scenes.

With that said, “Wonderland” is a strong comeback that delivers on the intended atmosphere of the track, making it one of 2019 most memorable MV. From Hong-joong’s kicking off the track with his warning rap to Jong-ho’s hefty high notes, “Wonderland” is a truly powerful and resonant track that will further mark Ateez as the beast rookie group of the year.

The style and sound are not particularly popular in the current Kpop scene (other than Black pink’s Kill this Love, of course), but Ateez sure have enough in their credit to pull it off. This comeback makes it difficult for anyone to overlook Ateez as a group that is here to stay, with more than enough potential to continue to grow into superstars.