One of K-pop’s secret weapons is the ability to draw from different musical genres to enliven the baseline pop formula. Some genres have brief, time-specific explosions of popularity, like disco in 2020 and the current pop-punk and pop-rock influences embraced by TXT, Yena, and Xdinary Heroes among others. Other genres play the long game, never exploding into full-fledged trends, but instead surfacing in K-pop occasionally but consistently. EDM is one of the later type of genres. Its presence in K-pop is a quiet yet ever-present hum, popping up in remixes, its impact on the predominant “noise music” sound of many fourth-generation groups, and a handful of specifically EDM-focused endeavors such as SM Entertainment’s EDM label Scream Records.

In spite of this context, EDM-focused K-pop releases, particularly title tracks, are rare. This isn’t entirely surprising. EDM is a very intense, specific genre that can provoke polarized reactions. For example, Stray Kids’ 2019 EDM-heavy song “Side Effects” was met with praise for its experimentation, but also turned many listeners off due to its abrasive qualities. A whole-hearted leaning into EDM is therefore risky, and yet that’s exactly what Ateez do in their latest comeback “Halazia.” The group’s enthusiastic embrace of the EDM influence is even more apparent in the single album that “Halazia” helms, Spin Off: From the Witness, which features three EDM remixes of previously-released songs and a heavily electronic instrumental original track “Outro: Blue Bird.” Despite EDM’s trickiness though, Ateez’s waltz with the genre works. Spin Off fits seamlessly into Ateez’s prior discography even as its EDM touches give it exciting novelty, making the single album an example of K-pop genre-sampling at its most successful.

Though Spin Off is not explicitly tied to Ateez’s ongoing album series The World, which kicked off with “Guerilla” and The World Ep.1: Movement in July of 2022, the dystopian concept introduced in “Guerilla” is continued in the MV for “Halazia.” However, while “Guerilla” embraced industrial and technological dystopian imagery, “Halazia” is more interested in post-apocalyptic decay. Amidst the rotting concrete carcasses of metropolitan buildings, Ateez continue their anarchic activities against a cruel authority, but where “Guerilla” followed a heist-like narrative, “Halazia” is more the calm in-between storms where the team rallies before the next conflict. There’s quite a bit of evocative staring, and nature seems to be slowly reclaiming the ruined city as seen through flashes of fire, ominous storm-cloud filled gray skies, and bits of greenery peeking through crumbling structures.

The pared-back dystopian imagery “Halazia” taps into means it is a less layered, and to a certain extent less exciting, MV compared to “Guerilla.” “Halazia” is also less consistent versus its predecessor, with a handful of locations like Yunho’s regal solo set and Hongjoong’s neon-lit rap verse locale clashing with the overall concept. Still, “Halazia” has great moments, especially when it fully commits to a melancholy apocalyptic mood. The start of the second chorus, when the frenetic choreography slows for a brief moment into an aggressive yet elegant formation, is once such moment, as are the MV’s closing shots of a massive metal orb exploding harmlessly around San and a group of mysterious figures peering into a cavernous building.

The simplified visuals of “Halazia” also create space for the track’s intriguing vaguely religious aura, from the prevalence of caped and hooded figures, to the positioning of a straw man dressed in one of Ateez’s ‘Halateez’ outfits (Halateez are mysterious alter egos of Ateez that regularly appear in their MVs) as an icon of some sort, elevated on an altar. This almost mystical vibe is hammered home by the chant-like “Hala Hala Hala Hala Halazia” that opens each chorus, prayer-like lyrical content, and the rather witty use of a bell as part of the track’s instrumentation. The frankly over-the-top imagery and musicality that create this fantastical dystopian mood loop back into the song’s EDM influences and why this genre-sampling works well for this specific song, single album, and Ateez as a group.

EDM is nothing if not dramatic, and that is often true as much lyrically as it is musically. Therefore, Ateez’s current topical interest in revolution, despair, and rage suits EDM. Lyrical and musical intensity feed off each other in an intuitive and satisfying way in “Halazia,” pounding bass beats and soaring vocals complimenting equally vehement words:

I can’t feel what it’s like to be alive

Even now, in this moment

Color this infinitely cold world

Be the light, Oh Halazia

“Halazia” also cleverly doesn’t reveal the extent of its EDM influence until the very end, when it explodes into an intense electronic dance break. Before those final seconds though, “Halazia” manages to deploy EDM, a heavy-handed genre, with a light touch in its lyrics and production choices. This allows EDM to add a splash of uniqueness to “Halazia” without overwhelming the song and making it an unpalatable title track. Compare this to one of Ateez’s prior EDM-influenced songs, the Universe Music release “Don’t Stop” with its more blanket commitment to electronic musicality resulting in rather flat results, and the evolved sophistication of “Halazia” is even more apparent.

As noted previously, EDM is much more front and center in the remixes and outro of Spin Off. Here too though, the thoughtfulness shown in the controlled use of EDM in “Halazia” is present. The three remixed tracks are not simply the most recent Ateez releases, or a collection of their biggest hits, but rather appear to be cherry-picked from across Ateez’s discography for their EDM compatibility. “I’m the One,” the title track from their 2021 EP Zero: Fever Part.2, has already gotten the remix treatment on that EP, and in fact it is that original remix version which Ateez performed live as part of their most recent tour set. It appears here as “I’m the One – Eden-ary Remix” and the song’s interesting melodies and strong central rhythms continue to serve an EDM twist well. The same can be said of popular 2019 b-side “WIN,” here presented as “WIN – June One Remix.”

However, the most inspired remix choice on Spin Off is “Take Me Home,” also off Zero: Fever Part.2. Originally a moody, melody-driven b-side, “Take Me Home” is a prime showcase of Ateez’s emotional intensity and vocal talent, both qualities which make them a group especially suited to pulling in some EDM influences. A quick scan of releases from prominent DJs and EDM artists show that many of them seek out strong vocalists to feature in their songs, and there’s a reason for that. Gripping melodies delivered by strong singers can provide a needed balance to EDM tracks’ bombastic production, and Ateez deliver just that in “Take Me Home -IDIOTAPE Remix” and also in “Halazia,” with Jongho’s power vocals and Yeosang‘s low growl as the musical MVPs of this comeback.

“Take Me Home -IDIOTAPE Remix” is also notable for its specifically rock-influenced EDM approach, something that is also true of Spin Off’s only fully original b-side “Outro: Blue Bird.” These rock touches, particularly the use of electric guitar, cleverly tie Spin Off to Ateez’s rock and screamo experimentation in their previous EP The World Ep.1. This single album thus slots itself firmly into Ateez’s musical continuity while still standing out as its own distinctive entry in their discography.

Despite its excellence, Spin Off isn’t going to be for everyone precisely because it is such a solid EDM K-pop album. While “Halazia” cleverly balances its pop and EDM influences to create something generally appealing, if you don’t enjoy EDM, you’re unlikely to enjoy Spin Off as a whole. Regardless of whether it is your cup of tea though, Spin Off offers some valuable insights into what makes a successful genre-sampling release in K-pop. Namely, Spin Off highlights the importance of choosing a genre to dabble in on the basis of its compatibility with the group and their musicality, as opposed to blindly following genre trends. The single album also demonstrates the importance of creatively and thoughtfully wielding genre influences, and contains great examples of the stellar payoff that can come from an intelligent approach to genre-melding. Though only a small release in terms of the number of tracks, Spin Off and “Halazia” nevertheless impress, showcasing why Ateez continue to be one of the most compelling groups active in K-pop.

(YouTube. Lyrics via YouTube. Images via KQ Entertainment.)