You can never accuse Ateez of not putting in any effort with their comebacks. Now into the second episode of their “World” series, they have decided to kick off their summer, and their second mini album of the year, with the rowdy ball of energy that is “Bouncy (K-Hot Chilli Peppers)”. From the title alone, it is clear that the tongues of the eight members are set firmly in their cheeks, as this hyped-up “noise music” track proudly revels in suggestiveness and drive, with an MV to match. 

Just looking at the title of this song indicates that this is not Ateez in their most serious mode. The obvious parody of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers name, twisted to reference a typical Korean food, is the first clue that we are about to experience something joyfully playful. This is a swerve from the more earnest dystopias of the first part of their “World” series, and indeed, it seems that this MV has taken a step away from the apocalyptic and into something more light-hearted. 

The settings here, rather than desolate wastelands, seem to be variously typical sights of masculinity, or, to be perhaps a little more accurate, bravado. There is a boxing ring, a Western saloon, a neon-lit highway complete with Tron style motorbikes (where else could you ride such a thing?), and even a garage with a police car. And a macaw. More on that later. Whilst there is also the obligatory outdoor night time scene lit by neon lights, and a giant white hallway that harkens back to their earlier work, it seems here like the main settings are sites for the members to play around and act, rather than continue any over-arching narrative. 

Whilst a boxing ring, a saloon, a highway and a garage don’t have any obvious connections, they are used throughout the MV for the members to play-act a kind of cockiness that, paired with the song itself, instantly becomes a pastiche. We open with a wide shot behind a proper old-fashioned gunslinger, complete with Stetson and rifle slung across his back.

After pushing open the saloon doors of a bar that shoots fire from the roof (obviously), said gunslinger stalks across the bar, before being revealed as a brooding Mingi. We then cut to the same shot behind Seonghwa, this time in bike leathers on a road at night. Hongjoong swiftly joins in as cowboy number two, and only a couple of shots later we are introduced to a sleeveless San in a seedy boxing ring, being coached by a doggedly enthusiastic Wooyoung.

Cowboys, bikers, boxers, this sounds positively cinematic, no? Well, in terms of the actual shooting style, yes, absolutely. The cinematography employs the full Raging Bull effect with black and white sections in the boxing ring, as well as kinetic shots rotating from the end of Mingi’s gun, similar to those used in Le Sserafim’s “Unforgiven”. There is also high contrast and rich colour used for the biking sequences, to give the most ‘futuristic’ tinge possible to the neon lights and zooming CGI bikes.

However, in terms of the actual content, these vignettes are moments of utter silliness from the members, having great fun playing dress up with typically masculine concepts in a way that undermines their potential earnestness. This is a great choice for a song that is clearly in ‘bombast’ mode. It is full of distortion, chanted pre-choruses, and a hook in the chorus pitched deliberately highly. So why not add to this by having San and Wooyoung ham it up as a boxer and his coach? Or by having Yunho and Jongho nod along, po-faced, to a scarlet macaw that appears to be speaking the high-pitched line of the chorus? 

It is refreshing to see these hyper-masculine archetypes played comically in this MV, especially when many of these exact tropes are used for utterly serious purposes in other K-pop MVs. Here, Hongjoong and Mingi, with the full hat, flares and boots combination, are playing with the cowboy motif, rather than taking it seriously. Yunho and Jongho flash their police badges enthusiastically at the camera and go in for the full bro handshake-to-backslap, but in the same breath nod along sternly to a tropical bird. Even the all-white outfits in the hallway section of the MV feel like a light eyebrow raise to the most classic of boyband conventions. We are in the world of lampooning bravado here, and the members are clearly enjoying it. 

Sometimes, this frenetic sense of fun does get slightly in the way of the choreography of the MV. This has always been one of Ateez’s greatest strengths, and when we do see it here, there is, once again, some great mischievousness. For instance, in the first chorus, the line “Slow it down, make it bouncy, starting now, fly” is accompanied by the members leaning backwards, also a nod to the pre-chorus’s request to “sit back and relax everybody”. It’s followed by the miming of biting a chilli, which is a pleasantly blunt way to incorporate the chillis of the title. 

However, a lot of this choreography is skipped in favour of these small storylines between the various members. Rather than seeing anything particularly extended, we instead see San knock out his opponent (complete with the most artfully placed scratches I’ve ever seen) comic-book style. We also see a bike race on the highway, and Mingi shooting his gun in the bar. It’s not necessarily a bad choice to forgo the choreography for these scenes, but it does feel a little absent at certain moments. 

When the choreography does come in, as in the example mentioned above, there are flashes of fun added into the cinematography, just as there were for the vignettes. Whilst a lot of the cuts in the choreography sequences are a little too fast to catch the intricacies of what Ateez can achieve — and a lot of the shots are from below, presumably to emphasise ‘swagger’– there is a section in the second chorus where these elements blend well. As Hongjoong leads the group in a snaking line, the camera tilts dramatically, adding a sense of anarchy to the silliness of the song’s central refrain. 

Slow it down, make it bouncy, starting now, fly

A different kind of spicy, cheongyang chilli pepper vibe

If you wanna know how, I can show you right now

We’re making it bouncy, set it on fire, fly

This shot signals to the viewers, in much the same way that the high-pitch repetition of the chorus does, that this song is Ateez looking askance at their audience, inviting them into a song that is not taking itself at all seriously. 

Whilst “Bouncy” doesn’t shy away musically from many of the noisiest elements of 4th generation K-pop—distorted guitars, shout chanting, a stomping beat, and very altered vocals throughout—it has the boldness to recognise the ridiculousness of much of this style. Through the acting of the members in their various scenarios, the camerawork (when it calms down enough) and the flashes of brilliant choreography, “Bouncy” becomes the best that it can be. It’s pastiche loud and proud, and shows a confidence from Ateez that can only push them further forward as top players in today’s K-pop landscape. 

(Youtube. Images via KQ Entertainment. Lyrics via Genius.)