Before you come for me, let me clarify! By “uninspired,” I mean to say that Ateez’s latest album treads no new ground for the group — which isn’t quite as negative as it may sound.
You see, Zero: Fever pt. 1 doesn’t represent a musical breakthrough for Ateez, but the new EP is well in line with the group’s past work. And given the incredible quality of Ateez’s Treasure series, that’s a huge compliment to Fever. After all, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Fever is produced by the same songwriters who crafted the Treasure series. This lends Fever a sense of continuity; it sounds uniquely Ateez and plays to the group’s strengths. The mini album isn’t nearly as exciting as their past work, but perhaps that’s too high a bar. Musically speaking, Fever isn’t very inspired but still keeps the quality high.
Lyrically, Fever is similarly cohesive. The album explores dreams and goals, as well as motivates listeners to never give up. The songs fall into two categories: those that describe hopelessness because a dream hasn’t been fulfilled yet, and those that depict what success looks like.
The intro song, “Dear Diary: 2016.07.29” quickly sets the lyrical tone of the album. Amid a backdrop of gentle wind and occasional bird calls, a woman delivers a spoken word performance entirely in English. She describes hopelessness:
Many books tell me, look up at the night sky
And become the person who shines bright like those stars
But the stars that I looked up in the sky did not shine at all.
So I continued to walk, looking down on the floor
Then, the story shifts when she finds a companion who encourages her and motivates her to keep striving for her dreams. As music filters in, quietly at first and then building to a crescendo, the woman’s performance becomes even more impassioned. “Wandering around with this unknown fever,” she says, “as we looked above our heads, stars seem to shine bright.”
The intro ends with two drum beats, which are repeated in the second track, “Fever.” As this new song starts, it becomes evident that the warm fairy tale-like synth from “Dear Diary: 2016.07.29” is actually the instrumental for “Fever.” This seamless transition is particularly effective, serving as the perfect tie between these two songs.
“Fever” relies on the aforementioned synth loop, which results in a warm and hazy vibe. This is an earnest, welcoming start to the album.
The bridge in particular stands out: first the instrumental fades to a pensive piano section. Then Jongho’s vocals slam back in, highlighted even more by the pause. His power note bleeds into a charismatic rap from Hongjoong, placed atop a percolating beat. This bridge is incredibly dynamic and engaging, and helps “Fever” end on a high note.
Other than this one segment, though, “Fever” is typical Ateez. It’s good, yes, but not anything new. Conversely, the lyrics in “Fever” are quite interesting. Ateez sing and rap about struggling to achieve their dream, constantly referring to a fever:
How will we be at the end of the wandering
Nobody will know
Impatience and twisted tremor
So I gotta let it go
Maybe we’re living younger
That’s why we fever
Yet here, the word “fever” doesn’t bear a purely negative connotation –Ateez acknowledge that their feverish desire to achieve their dream does cause them pain sometimes, but they temper this message with a healthy dose of hope. So “Fever” stands as a tribute to burning determination amid a struggle.
Similarly, “Inception” (the title track) also follows a struggling Ateez, as they suffer because of unrequited love.
As if I have dreamed in a dream
I’m lost looking for you
You are the dream I live in, the dream I can never awake from
Every day & night I’m gon’ chase you
Musically speaking, “Inception” is Ateez par for the course. Dramatic chorus melody, check. Attitude-infused rap, check. Steady prechorus climbs, check. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, and certainly not as strong as past triumphs like “Say My Name” and “Wonderland.” But “Inception” is solid and compelling in its own right, with plenty of staying power.
In fact, this song is an excellent example of one of Ateez’s most unique qualities: their vocals. Personally, I think of Ateez as Infinite’s successors in K-pop. Infinite had a trademark whiny vocal style, which was actually a plus because it perfectly fit their concept as “obsession-idols.” Similarly, from a purely technical standpoint, Ateez aren’t the best vocalists — they have a quite nasal, thin sound. Yet it works! Their vocals create an incredibly raw, earnest energy that matches the desperate “Inception” very well.
But, as its intro indicates, Fever isn’t entirely devoted to trials and tribulations — this is where the “inspiring” part comes in. The album emphasizes the idea that companionship (whether platonic or romantic) can lift people out of their struggles.
Take “Good Lil Boy,” for instance. This track references the intro, by serving as a lyrical counterpoint. While the intro described a discouraged person, “Good Lil Boy” depicts the thoughts of the one who helped the intro speaker out of that slump:
Hey, little boy
Why you look down?
Look straight ahead
Tighten your shoelaces and
Without any difficulty
The entire world is yours
Taken as a pair of songs, “Dear Diary: 2016.07.29” and “Good Lil Boy” enhance each other’s messages to form a heartwarming theme: when you’re feeling down and lost, a loved one can motivate you and guide you back to the right path.
Additionally, since the intro is called a diary, it seems that “Good Lil Boy” is from the viewpoint of present-day Ateez encouraging Ateez-from-four-years-ago. This personal touch adds a hint of pathos and warmth to “Good Lil Boy.”
Similarly, “One Day at a Time” adds to this encouraging theme of support and help. Ateez declare, “You’re in that box you built yourself, I’ll help you break it.” Once again, Ateez are singing and rapping from the point of view of the friend who motivates a lost person, who inspires them to chase their dream.
However, “One Day at a Time” isn’t nearly as compelling as its lyrics. The song depends on colorless trap and overly trendy atmospheric synths. The chorus is repetitive and dull, which is shocking — after all, this is Ateez we’re talking about! Perhaps a good friend can prop you up in your lowest moments, but heartfelt sentiment alone can’t prop up a bland song.
Luckily, “Thanxx” and “To the Beat” are a vast improvement over the faceless “One Day at a Time.” These two songs represent the next step in Fever’s logical progression: first the album talked about feeling discouraged, then it showed how to overcome difficulties, and now it depicts success.
And boy oh boy, what a success “Thanxx” is! Hands-down the best song on the album, “Thanxx” doubles down on all of Ateez’s strengths. The full-bodied percussion, so reminiscent of “Wonderland,” builds a sense of immense richness. And the compelling chorus, with a grand and imposing melody, only adds to that power. I love Hongjoong and Mingi’s rap breakdown here, as they trade more and more energetic lines.
“Thanxx” is big, it’s brash, it’s bold. “Thanxx” is Ateez in a nutshell.
The lyrics complement that sense of grandiosity. Now that Ateez has overcome the obstacles in their path, they talk about how they’ve claimed their own identity, even if it’s polarizing. Ateez proclaim their self-confidence:
No worries, no thanks I’m okay
I am just who I am
Don’t say it’s all for my own sake
Leave me alone to my own rhythm
“To the Beat” ups the confidence even further — not only are Ateez confident in their own skin, but they’re also leading others too:
Let it shine, let it shine
All get crazy
I’ll make you say wow
To the left
To the right
“To the Beat” opens with hi-hats and a chirpy sample that’s later looped. The first verse features sharp whispered rap, which brings to mind NCT 127’s “Punch.” The instrumental is very different from “Punch”’s electro backbone, though — “To the Beat” is rap-heavy beast of a song, using myriad sound effects like clanging bells, frantic sirens, buzzlike synths, and spiraling autotuned adlibs. The chorus in particular impresses, using thuds of dramatic percussion that create a sense of dynamism. Wooyoung stands out; he infuses his “let it shine” line with attitude, so that it almost collapses into a sneering drone.
“To the Beat”’s most ballsy move, though, comes in its last minute or so. After the bridge, the song abruptly shifts to a jarring breakdown complete with metal-scraping sound effects. This breakdown is incredibly experimental, and almost sounds like some of Hitchhiker’s more left-field work. And, even more daringly, “To the Beat” ends after this breakdown — with no final chorus to smooth things over.
I’m still not sure if I like this abrupt breakdown, but I will say that it’s very much in keeping with the spirit of “To the Beat.” The song’s all about attitude, and the experimental ending fits the bill perfectly. Indeed, it ties in well with Fever’s message as a whole: Ateez have struggled to get to where they are today, and now they’ve realized that true success is finding self-confidence. “To the Beat” may be polarizing, but it’s uniquely Ateez, and the group refuses to back down.
In conclusion, Fever isn’t an inspired exploration of new musical sounds. Instead, Ateez have chosen to double down on the sounds they’ve worked with in the past, but to great effect. The end result is solid and conveys an inspiring message of chasing and achieving dreams.