I have previously made it clear that my addiction to Ateez’s 2023 track “Bouncy” knows no bounds. As of December of last year, I had racked up 96 listens on Spotify alone, which I’m pretty confident is not normal. But as a catchy, knowing and ultimately silly sideways glance at modern masculinity, it really had no match. It showcased a more light-hearted side to a group famous for their high intensity performances and grandiose style. “Bouncy” was a totally different, though equally effective, approach from “Halazia” or “Wonderland”, but served to only add to their repertoire, rather than to undermine it.

Happily, it looks like Ateez are keen to make this satirical silliness more of a trend in their work. If “Bouncy” is a sly look at male bravado, replete with winking references to chilli peppers (the Korean word “gochu” is a slang term for penis), then their latest single, “Work”, is an even bolder jab at hustle culture. A light hip-hop infused pop bop with tinges of latino style, it is a song, and MV, that openly revels in mocking a blinkered approach to gaining money at the expense of all else. And if “Bouncy” is a little joke of a satire, then “Work” is a full-on sketch show. 

The MV is absolutely stuffed, from beginning to end, with so many surreal set pieces and sight gags that it feels almost absurd. The main theme of the backdrops of the MV is Americana, with a dry desert, a diner, and an urban parking lot being some of the most central locations. This Americana is dialled up to the level of parody.

We have San panning for gold in the desert, Yunho leading the members behind the counter at a busy diner, Hongjoong and Mingi battling a money-covered monster against a miniature Hollywood-style skyscraper landscape, and Yeosang cutting up counterfeit notes in a seedy looking office. The American iconography is so over-the-top here that it is clearly a pastiche, presumably of the country that originated the “greed is good” mentality.

And it would seem that this very attitude is at the heart of the satire in “Work”. As Yunho leads the diner service in one of the MV’s opening scenes, behind a pile of hamburgers literally stuffed with money, his chanting of the chorus lets us know that he might not be entirely earnest. 

Gotta make that money, make purse 

Got a fur coat, so I make it purr 

Gotta get that credit, get perks

Gotta, gotta, gotta work

This chorus is delivered in a pleasingly rhythmic speak-song style, and also entirely in English. The ludicrousness of the bragging here—making a fur coat purr?—reveals what the imagery of the MV is already showing. The set pieces and lyrics are ridiculous, because this mindset is ridiculous too. 

Ateez is absolutely not afraid to make an open mockery of this capitalistic hyper-focus on money in every way. Alongside the overt Americanisation, the MV revels in a lot of surreal imagery. The most distinctive example of this is in the opening sequence, where we meet Jongho buried in the desert sand up to his neck. He looks (unsurprisingly) confused, as the other seven members pace up behind him, replete with wide-brimmed cowboy hats and, in Hongjoong’s case, a spade.

As we see them shot from below, staring sternly down, the camera pans back to Jongho, who is now holding a flute (naturally). To add to this bizarre image, he begins to play it, introducing the main hook of the song that will loop under the simplistic hip-hop beat throughout. It’s a wonderfully odd way to open the MV, and is given an extra layer of incongruence from the fact that the sound he makes with said flute clearly comes from a clarinet. From the very opening moment of “Work”, Ateez make it clear that they are not in serious mode. 

Other moments in this MV extend the satirical approach to wealth obsession at the heart of this song. After Jongho sings the Spanish line “Ganso que pone huevos de oro”, which translates to “the goose that lays the golden eggs”, we cut to Yeosang in an office filled with fake money. He smiles next to a pile of actual golden eggs whilst staring lovingly at a chicken he is later seen cradling (I guess there were no geese available that day). Here, the idiom has become real, and in doing so highlights the ridiculousness inherent in an obsession with chasing wealth—you’ll just end up hugging a chicken. 

Aside from this openly hilarious sequence, other members have no trouble joining in with playing the fool. There are more chickens surrounding Jongho at one point, whilst they actively dance around Seonghwa as he rides an ostrich. If there is a deeper meaning to that particular image, I don’t know what it is, but it’s hilarious to see him keeping such a straight face whilst wearing a white suit, carrying some national flags in his saddle, and, again I cannot stress this enough, riding an ostrich. 

It’s a comedic moment matched only by the decision to dress Mingi in a Gene Wilder-era Willy Wonka outfit for one of the central dance sequences. I assume this is another clever way to bring in a commentary on greed, especially as that story features a character who meets her demise specifically while trying to get herself a goose that lays golden eggs. It’s a delightfully on-the-nose reference, but Ateez have already made it clear that they aren’t really trying to be subtle here. 

Alongside this joyful smirking at a mindset that prioritises making money over everything—”not really interested in socializing”—there are also a few references to Hispanic and Latino cultures in the MV that might add a little depth to the song’s frivolity. As well as one of the lines of the song being delivered in Spanish, there is a sequence where Wooyoung dances in front of flamenco dancers and a mariachi band. Though the line he delivers is not a deep one, it is another moment in the MV where the Spanish-speaking world is directly acknowledged. 

Girls dancing like flamingo

But my time is money, so adios

This is not an uncommon concept in K-pop, and is not even alien to Ateez. The Latin touches in this song are far lighter than in their 2023 album track “Arriba”, but they are consistent. Alongside these dancers and the band, in one of the main dance sequences, the members dance in front of hopping lowrider cars, a popular element of Mexican American culture. They are also wearing suits that are similar in style to the zoot suits of the 1940s, with their wide-legged, high-waisted trousers and broad-shouldered jackets echoing the suit that was popularised in part by Mexican Americans. Some of these touches are subtler than others, and it is less clear exactly how they fit into the pastiche. 

In the example of their styling, these suits sit in amongst cowboy outfits and more hip-hop influenced streetwear. These are three key iconic styles of America, and specifically a diverse, non-white America of the working classes (oh yes, cowboys have always been an element of Latin culture). Could it be that these choices represent the kinds of people who get caught up in the pursuit of wealth, whilst being most damaged by it? Thinking in this way, it explains the more rural and working-environment locations used: if they were in expensive suits in glamourous locations, would that not glorify greed more than undermining it? 

Mocking the blinkered pursuit of wealth at the sacrifice of everything else is undoubtedly the target of this entire song, as both these subtler ideas, and the more openly comic moments of the MV, make extremely clear. From the raining fake money, through to the abundance of birds (I didn’t even get to Seonghwa hatching from a giant golden egg at the end), and money monsters towering over fake cityscapes, Ateez are satirising this capitalistic hustle culture with freedom and abandon. 

It’s truly enjoyable to watch a group lean this hard into their comedic side, and given that this isn’t their first time at this particular rodeo, it hopefully means that there is more fun to be had with Ateez and parody in the future. If “Bouncy” and “Work” are part of a new world for the group—and given that “Bouncy” even gets a nod in this MV when Hongjoong cuts a chilli in the kitchen, it would seem so—it is exciting to wonder what their next target will be.

(BBC, History.com, Youtube. Lyrics via Genius. Images via KQ Entertainment.)