- Born in Seoul, Hongjoong got his start in music at school, writing his first song at 16 and joining KQ Entertainment
- Now he is the leader of K-pop group Ateez, currently selling out concerts in the US and Europe
It's only been a little more than a year since K-pop boy group Ateez made their debut in October 2018, but a devoted community of fans " called the Atiny " has formed around the eight-member group, with followers to be found everywhere from South Korea to the United States.
Ateez were initially known as "KQ Fellaz", named after their small idol agency, KQ Entertainment. They were launched to fame via the YouTube series "KQ Fellaz American Training", in which members travelled across the Pacific to receive instruction in the various skills needed to become K-pop stars.
Within months of their debut, Ateez's first concerts in the US and Europe tour sold out within minutes. For the next round of concerts in March, Ateez are playing larger venues, and tickets quickly sold out again.
Ateez's debut EP reached No 12 on Billboard's world albums chart within two weeks of its release. Hongjoong, the leader of the group, co-wrote five of the six tracks in the EP. Here's a look at the Ateez leader's life so far.
His early life
Hongjoong was born Kim Hong-joong in 1998 in Anyang, a satellite city of the South Korean capital, Seoul. He began working on music during high school and spent most of his time in the studio.
As a youngster his idols were K-pop stars G-Dragon and Zico. He wrote his first song when he was 16 years old for his late grandmother.
He joined the 2017 idol competition show Mix Nine, but was ousted in the second elimination round.
Before joining Ateez, Hongjoong was KQ Entertainment's first and only trainee for six months.
His role in Ateez
Hongjoong's nickname among Ateez members, "mum", speaks volumes about his role in the group. Although he's not the oldest member, Hongjoong has been seen in practice videos telling off misbehaving members and getting visibly annoyed, often to the amusement of the others.
As a leader of the group, Hongjoong has said he wanted to be a strong frontman, but preferred to let members learn from their mistakes.
Hongjoong also speaks English, which makes him the face of Ateez internationally and the group's ambassador for fans outside South Korea.
Wooyoung, another member who also competed in Mix Nine, said during a 2019 interview with Forbes that Hongjoong was the cutest member of the group and liked to butt into conversations he knew nothing about.
As leader, vocalist and rapper with the group, Hongjoong also writes music and lyrics for Ateez's tracks. Along with fellow Ateez member Mingi, he helped write all but two tracks on the group's first full-length album, Treasure EP. Fin: All to Action, released in October 2019.
His solo work
Solo work is not a priority for Hongjoong, who said during a Forbes interview that he would always write for the group and never for only himself.
Change is a constant in the world of K-pop fashion, and for Hongjoong that change comes in the form of hairstyles. For much of 2019, he sported an iconic mullet which he said had a tendency to get in his mouth while dancing. The mullet made its debut in the music video for Say My Name, a single Ateez released in January 2019.
Hongjoong told Allure that the mullet in the music video was made possible with hair extensions, but after that he achieved the look naturally. And as 2019 drew to an end, Hongjoong began to sport two rat's tails in the promotional materials for Treasure EP. Fin: All to Action.
Besides the hair, Hongjoong paints one of his little nails to raise awareness for Polished Man, a campaign to stop violence against children.
Outside music, Hongjoong is also known as "Korean Big Minion" for being a big fan of the Minions, the characters from the Despicable Me and Minions film franchises. During a Korean reality TV show, Hongjoong dressed like a Minion when visiting an amusement park with the rest of Ateez.
In his words
"My mother really inspires me, because she's always told me that you can do anything you set your mind to if you love it. I always think about that " if I have a passion for something, I can make anything happen," Hongjoong said in an interview with Refinery29.
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