ATEEZ have taken 2019 by storm, releasing a steady stream of music that has now culminated with their first full album. The fact that all of this has been accomplished in under a year is staggering – even more so when you realize that each and every track has been composed by the same small team of collaborators. This sense of focus has given their work a distinct point of view and purpose. ATEEZ may draw from many of today’s trends, but they do so in a way that comes across as idiosyncratic and incredibly exciting. New single Wonderland is no exception, offering the most theatrical statement the group has made to date.
Nothing about Wonderland is subdued. It’s big and brash and revels in its own bombast. The instrumental is packed with orchestral flourishes and marching band percussion. It feels like the coronation of everything the group has released thus far — the grand finale to a thrilling saga that has been unexpectedly ambitious from day one. In the hands of lesser producers, Wonderland‘s hard-hitting production would be rendered generic, with faceless EDM and trap influences. In the hands of Eden, LEEZ, Buddy and Ollounder, that same energy is generated from a unique palette of sounds. Trumpeting synths abound. Thundering drumbeats ensure that the track feels epic even in its more restrained moments.
Wonderland kicks off with an extended introduction from leader Hongjoong — more a statement of intent than a simple rap. This leads into a high energy verse that climbs to the song’s stirring pre-chorus. The best part of most ATEEZ singles has been their soaring, melodic pre-choruses, and Wonderland continues this pattern with aplomb. Jongho takes the lead here and proves yet again why he is one of the most commanding vocals in K-pop right now.
Rather than keep the intensity rising, Wonderland‘s production drops out just before the chorus. For a brief (and somewhat frightening) moment, it feels as if we’re in for some disappointingly threadbare instrumental loop, but the guys fire back with a lumbering hook that comes across as half hip-hop hype and half sea shanty. It’s an odd melody for K-pop, but fits firmly within ATEEZ’s pirate aesthetic. From here, Wonderland‘s second verse switches things up in thrilling fashion as symphonic flourishes tug at the instrumental to build both tension and excitement. This is over-the-top song construction, and I love every moment of it. And while the track never finds a climax quite as genius as Say My Name‘s epic synth drop or Wave‘s euphoric refrain, Wonderland‘s combative elements graft together in the end to forge a knockout finale.
Even as I’ve praised their past material, I’ve always managed to underrate ATEEZ singles. That’s not happening this time.