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!
You can check out all rounds of my Battle of the B-sides here!
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!
Wheel of the Year is gorgeous ❤️ it’s so fitting as their final song.
(As a suggestion, I’d really love to read some kind of farewell/retrospective on GFRIEND written by you, Nick!)
Totally off topic, but Ha:tfelt released a new song recently. Any chance you are going to give it a review?
as an incredibly biased Shawol, I can only say that Jonghyun wins this round for me. But I always enjoyed Grease I mean it took me a couple of months to actually sit down and listen to Poet Artist but Grease may not be the best song on Poet Artist but I love it nonetheless. Sad to see it only ranked fourth
Man, I forgot about BIGSTAR! They were definitely a little BIGBANG inspired with their Chris Brown R&B meets Bubblegum Pop, especially with that b-side. It sounds a lot like ‘Sunset Glow’.
That GFriend song is a super solid Pop song.
My preferred b-side on Jonghyun’s Poet-Artist album is “Only One You Need”.
I think it is a stronger song than even the “Shinin” lead single.
“Wheel of the Year” is not my favorite song in the album (it’s the magical Three of Cups for me) but it’s really special, and other Buddies can say the same. It’s the closing song for their last album, the lyrics is really heartfelt, and the melody is melancholic and uplifting at the same time. I miss them. 😭
I haven’t heard the Bigstar album, but the rest are all ‘good’ songs in ‘great’ albums. End of Story is my particular favorite, I love YooA’s album in whole.
It was like 12-ish AM when this posted, so I missed it. But I’m here now! I think I didn’t get far enough in the album of GFRIEND’s to listen to this particular b-side, so I’m curious.
End Of Story is very beautiful, and got my ears raising for all the interesting melodic turns. It’s definitely a ballad, but well made regardless. I’m a bit more tolerant for ballads as long as they can move me or do something interesting and YooA’s did that somewhat. I like the syrupy description. Feels very apt.
I actually really like Close Your Eyes for some reason. The verses lean very R&B, which I’m not that mad at. The flow of the vocals are enough to transition well into the chorus, which is definitely more rave-y with the synths. I like the chiptune-y synth though whenever that kind of thing appears. Even the bridge feels like a mix between the two genre’s which is kind of cool in a way. Pretty great honestly.
OHHHH. I’m a big fan of this bouncy underwater vibe. I have no emotional connection with Jonghyun, but this song is really great. I understand not being a big fan if you aren’t a fan of this kind of synth music, but I love songs like this. The flow of the vocals are rhythmically enough to drift me through the whole song.
I hadn’t heard this before, but it’s so well-made. I can feel the anthem and energy of Wheel of the Year. I could wax poetic about what this reminds me, but it definitely feels like the perfect song to leave on in their career. A song that kind of encapsulates their past in a somber but energetic way. A great album ender for sure.
I’m not a fan of the vocal effects of WiFi. I know these are definitely an artistic choice, especially because of the song title, but I’m not excited by it at least in this song. The first verse is a total bomb, but then the bright and light vocals of the pre-chorus into the breezy chorus is honestly pretty great. Even the brassy post-chorus with some of the vocal effects is still good to listen. Even the rap is pretty playful which helps it flow well into the second verse. It honestly just has a bad first minute, the rest is fine. And it’s mostly the choice to use the vocal effect that harms it somewhat.
End of Story < WiFi < Close Your Eyes < Grease < Wheel of the Year
First match, though GFRIEND knocked it out of the park really. I liked Grease more, though I always like these synth-y tracks.
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You rated Jonghyun’s Grease as #4? Tsk, tsk, tsk…
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You rated Jonghyun’s Grease as #4? Why? Tsk, tsk, tsk…
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You rated Jonghyun’s Grease as #4? Why? Tsk, tsk, tsk… I think I practically downloaded almost 90% of this guys songs. I love his falsetto.
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It’s not really my type of song. I love Jonghyun, but definitely prefer other tracks from that album.
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