Ateez returned to London on Wednesday 22 to make their debut at the O2. The eight members played to a sold-out arena on the European leg of their The Fellowship: Break The Wall world tour. This marks the fourth time Ateez have taken the stage in London. The members have made global touring a key element of their mission to connect with Atiny across the world, after venturing out on their first voyage in 2019. Four years on, they’re veteran showmen and their O2 debut, spanning two and a half hours and a 22-song set list, is a testament to the team’s collective stamina and synergy.

Fresh from their latest single album Spin Off: From The Witness hitting number seven on the Billboard Top 200 chart, Ateez are on a mid-career high, leading K-pop’s fourth generation with their epic world-building and dizzying EDM-infused discography.

The boys hit the stage at 7:30pm, striding out onto the red-hued runway shrouded in black cloaks. The bass-driven thrum of “New World” swelled and skittered in time to the glittering ocean of bobbing light sticks. The eight members shifted into their tightly-synchronised choreography, riding a wave of energy that flowed through the show from the opening salvo of drums to the final curtain call.

Flying high on Atiny’s fan chants and surrounded by an undulating sea of lights, Ateez returned their audience’s fever-pitch excitement with a dedication to deliver, not only in their set list – which included a creative sprinkling of b-sides to keep the show fresh for fans – but with an earnest commitment to connect.

During the frequent speaking segments scattered between each set of performances, the members engaged in chatty banter with one another and the audience, communicating almost entirely in English for the duration of the show. Not only was their fluency impressive in itself, but it didn’t appear rehearsed — making moments of humour transcend traditionally scripted speeches to create a shared secret between Ateez and Atiny – until the fan-cams hit the internet.

Midway through the show, after a slick live showcase of the sultry “Cyberpunk”, San challenged Yeosang and Hongjoong to recreate his scandalous ‘chair dance’ to hilarious effect.  A little later in the night Yeosang denied feeling the barest trace of tiredness and San dared him to drop and do push-ups – drawing cries of empathy from the crowd, before Hongjoong smoothly stepped in to defuse the dramatic turn.

Whether encouraging Atiny to scream louder or orchestrating a ripple of rainbow waves by debating which colour they wanted the ocean of light sticks to shine next, Ateez had come not only to entertain – but to simply share the night with their fans.

The show opened with a shadowy sequence of tracks — early-career epic “Answer” followed by the darkly decadent pairing of “Sector 1” and “The Ring” before segueing into the knife-sharp choreography of fan-favourite “Hala Hala”. After a mysterious VCR segment to cover a costume change from bedazzled black military uniforms to stylish white suits, the mood shifted and softened.

The glitch-effects and strobe lights melted into sun-dappled views and suffused the audience in a golden glow as the band crooned into old fashioned mic stands for “Mist” and serenaded fans with the sparkling melodies of “Sunrise” and “Dazzling Light”. English and Korean lyrics flowed behind the members as they sang along with the crowd for soaring anthem “My Way”, lifting the audience in a raw moment of collective struggle, pride and hope.

The concert’s third segment was pure fun (and introduced a new level of fan-artist interaction) as the band released a volley of huge white balloons into the standing section of the crowd, and playfully batted them back and forth.

This gave Ateez the opportunity to showcase their professionalism in the face of the unexpected, as the members launched into choreography to accompany “Illusion” and “Wave”, while simultaneously dodging balloons – or using them to throw nearby bandmates off-beat, as Wooyoung attempted when he slyly tipped one towards maknae Jongho, but accidently hit leader Hongjoong, causing the latter to tumble to the ground in a dramatic show of falling.

The hype returned with fan-favourite “Say My Name” and its iconic ‘driving dance’ before the energy hit a new high with Japanese single “Rocky” – involving a scorching exchange of bars between Mingi and Hongjoong – and shattered in the dystopian drama of “Guerrilla”, with the audience screaming in time to the guttural punk-rock chorus.

Ateez arrived onstage for the encore dressed down in a boy-next-door mix of jackets and jeans to perform poignant ballad “Turbulence” with stars behind and before them as the crowd sang along as one in a blaze of blue lights. The mood brightened for joyous anthem “Celebrate” before the members said their goodbyes with an earnest vow to remain alongside Atiny however near or far, and a promise to return soon.

“The Real” encompassed everything Ateez had bought to the stage thus far – aligning kaleidoscopic visual effects with blistering beats to bring the show home in a canon-blast of confetti and a cheeky flutter of Hongjoong’s fan.

Every member had their moment in this concert – from Yunho’s dynamite dance moves to Seonghwa’s sultry charisma, as Jongho’s vocal runs set the arena alight. Mingi’s glacial cool was the perfect foil for Hongjoong’s edge of attitude, and consummate performers San, Wooyoung and Yeosang crushed their choreography while making every casual act of fan service unforgettable.

Five years into their career, Ateez have stamped their name on K-pop history with style and have no need to prove their power as performers – but come to testify to their talent they did, with an energy matched only by their desire to put on a truly epic show for the fans who continue to cheer them on from oceans away.

The group’s debut at the O2 epitomised the elements that draw audiences to K-pop itself. Beyond language barriers and continental borders, it is not simply the showmanship that bought Atiny to watch Ateez perform that night, but the bond forged from shared struggle and growth.

Behind the dazzle of the show’s spectacle, the bejewelled costumes and booming basslines, eight men stood on a vast stage at the end of the night, before a black screen bearing their collective name. One team, an arena of 20,000 fans and the sea of light between them.

(YouTube. Images via: KQ Entertainment.)