Ateez is arguably one of the rising acts on the K-pop landscape. Since their debut in 2018, the group has built a notable fan base, in particular garnering a large international fan following. A sold out world tour in 2019 further helped them solidify their success (a second tour was cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic). With their anthemic, eclectic and most notably choreography-heavy releases, Ateez has earned praise from fellow idols and industry seniors. Ateez’s biggest draw is their immaculate performance skills; their performance dynamics and chemistry are unmatched and each member possesses their own color.

Since 2020, Ateez’s success and popularity have been expanding continously. After beating their own record with the sales of Zero: Fever Part.1 last year, the group scored a double win on Immortal Songs (a rare feat for a rookie group) and was announced as one of the contestants on the highly-anticipated competition show Kingdom. In preparation to the show’s airing, Ateez now returns with Zero: Fever Part.2, the sequel to above mentioned first part. Member Mingi is not joining the promotions, but participated in the album’s recording.

Crafted by a songwriting and production team led by Eden (whom member Hongjoong describes as the father of Ateez), Zero: Fever Part.2 has some promising elements, but sadly fails to capitalize on Ateez’s talents and continue their strong discography. The solid production and uplifting message of the lyrics suffer from an uncreative selection of songs and the excessive use of autotune.

A clear message has been at the center of Ateez’s releases so far, that is to fight for your dreams and aspirations. Songs about never giving up and pushing towards a grand goal constitute a great part of the group’s repertoire. Clearly, this proclamation is also present in Zero: Fever Part.2 with half of the songs conveying this message in bold and fierce manner, while the other half opts for uplifting pop songs.

While the EDM-infused lead single “Fireworks (I’m The One)” is of the same anthemic nature as “Wonderland“, it it less so good in execution. Ateez turn it up a notch, assessing their relentless self-confidence. They express their superiority by proclaiming themselves as the chosen ones. Compared to their previous lead tracks, there is a notion of arrogance, like having mastered a major obstacle. This translates to the lyrics:

We’re far from the wannabes

Drunk but not drunk, you should feel it too, what up

Bomb it with the exploding scream

Right now we are just like playing with fire

However, while the lyrics may be self-assertive and inspirational, the musical arrangement and voice effects leave a lot to be desired and ultimately render “Fireworks (I’m The One)” weaker than previous title tracks. The autotune-layered opening of the verses is jarring to the ears while the post-chorus beat drop could easily have been fashioned more dynamic. It is nothing Ateez have not demonstrated before; previous releases have regularly included tracks with magnificent beat drops.

While “Fireworks” is a flawed track, it simultaneously serves as a showcase of Ateez’s vocal growth. The melodic bridge benefits from the members’ gorgeous vocals while for other parts of the song they challenge their lower registers. In sum, this is neither a good nor a bad track, but one whose experimentalism only yields a very generic product.

A similar verdict can also be reached for the rap-heavy and jumbled “The Leaders”, which ooozes swag, confidence and sounds like something Dok2 or Jay Park would release. It is admittedly an interesting track, in which even the vocalists let their rap skills shine. However, despite a strong first verse, the chorus is sadly a letdown. It features member Wooyoung whispering over a heavy bass beat and kills both the atmosphere and build-up of the song. Whispering in songs is generally a hit or miss, and for this song, it is sadly the latter.

For the uplifting and less autotuned portion of the album, Ateez play it safe and opt for rather generic releases. In “Time of Love”, a bright track with heavy-synth, they reassure their fans of the significance of love and the charm of unperfection in peaceful manner:

Jealousy too, no

We are the same, we born in love

Nobody can be perfect, we need each other

After the bold nature of the first two tracks, this song adds some nice variety, but evokes the impression of being merely a filler track. The production sounds rushed and jumbled. However, like the previous songs, “Time of Love” is not devoid of auspicious components with a magnificent pre-chorus and rap parts, but again the synergy of all elements is insufficient.

“Take me Home” may be the album’s strongest work. The 80’s synth influence is very prominent and well mixed with the R&B elements yielding a fabolous blend with the member’s versatile voices. The closing portion with a saxophone solo serves to convey the meaning of the lyrics well. The melancholic atmosphere creates a sense of despair and longing.

In the two years since their debut, Ateez have released magnificent albums and songs, which have been testimony to the group’s surging popularity and compelling performing skills. So far, they have excelled in mixing and blending different musical directions, but for Zero: Fever Part.2, this penchant results in their weakest release. As long as they return with another solid release next time around, Ateez will continue to thrive.

(Images via KQ Entertainment, Youtube)