K-pop’s title tracks might gain most of listeners’ attention, but many album tracks are worth equal spotlight. I call these “buried treasures.”
Beyond this, K-pop’s albums deliver thousands of additional tracks that settle for a more limited audience. It’s these songs that will become a part of my “battle of the b-sides” feature.
In this feature, I’ll be putting on my A&R hat and taking a listen to five randomly-selected K-pop b-sides. I’ll write a mini review for each, including a Bias List rating, and rank them from least to most favorite. The winner will join a special Bias List B-side playlist. Think of it like my own little agency, hand-selecting songs I’d like to pitch to my nonexistent artists!
Battle of the B-sides: Round Four
YooA – End Of Story (2020)
YooA’s 2020 debut is incredibly solid, but as with most K-pop albums we’ve got a sentimental ballad tacked onto the end. I’m a huge fan of YooA’s voice, and that certainly buoys End Of Story’s appeal. But when it comes down to it, this is a pretty syrupy pop ballad. It’s gentle and pretty and has a couple of nice melodic turns. And, I appreciate how stripped back the production is. Piano, strings and vocal harmonies create a satisfying atmosphere, shining spotlight exactly where it should: on YooA herself. With all that said, there’s a limit to how high I can rate ballads like this. Other than rare occasions, they’re just not my thing.
Bigstar – Close Your Eyes (2012)
This is very “of an era,” isn’t it? Right from the start, that emotive piano lets us know we’re in for an early-2010’s boy band angst-a-thon. Close Your Eyes takes a moment to get going, but once it climbs into its chorus, the beat becomes more propulsive and we’re pulsing along that patented Brave Sound groove. The verses pull back, delivering shots of hip-hop and R&B-influenced vocals. This stop/start arrangement dulls the song’s overall effect just a bit, but both extremes are pulled off well. The chorus is a nice little earworm, too. I love how the melody lifts midway through.
Jonghyun – Grease (2018)
Taken from Jonghyun’s posthumous Poet|Artist album, Grease is one of its more reserved moments. His characteristic vocal commands the track, luxuriating over its skittery beat. His phrasing is really engaging, perched somewhere between singing and rapping. There’s a palpable sense of tension throughout the verses, while the chorus offers a more dramatic hook. Overall, this isn’t my preferred style from Jonghyun, and I think Grease is one of the weaker efforts on an otherwise fantastic album. But as always, his charisma and skill elevate every moment.
GFriend – Wheel Of The Year (2020)
With GFriend’s disbandment now behind us, Wheel Of The Year may be considered their final song together. After all, it closes out their final album. As such, it’s an immensely satisfying pop anthem. The song surges with momentum right from the start, powered by a blend of instrumentation that brings in elements of folk and country to give the track a uniquely down-home appeal that feels warm and comfortable. The chorus is particularly nice. I love how the melody rushes in, driven by a robust arrangement that aims right for the heart. The strings are a nice touch, adding extra oomph to an already-dramatic production.
IMFACT – WiFi (2020)
WiFi opens with a few elements that I find off-putting. The marimba-like synth feels overly trendy, while the heavy vocal effects give the track an artificial sound. This is too bad, because there are other pieces of WiFi I like quite a bit. Its chorus is light and breezy, with an excellent vocal performance. The brassy, post-chorus riff is also very fun. However, I’m not a fan of the verses. They bring down the overall energy of the song, and don’t feel as tightly focused as the chorus. There’s a dynamite song buried in here somewhere, but the end result is kind of all over the place.
Fifth: YooA – End Of Story
Fourth: Jonghyun – Grease
Third: IMFACT – Wi-Fi
Second: Bigstar – Close Your Eyes
First: GFriend – Wheel Of The Year
Congratulations to GFriend’s Wheel Of The Year – the fourth winner of my Battle of the B-sides!
Readers, what do you think? Did you discover any hidden gems? Leave your own ranking in the comments!