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 Five
Key – The Duty Of Love (2018)
Gosh, Key’s solo album was so good. I think The Duty Of Love is actually one of its weaker tracks, which is really saying something because this is still so satisfying. I love the chunky guitar sound. That bass just chugs along with so much presence. The melody has a refreshing appeal, especially as Key moves into falsetto for the chorus. Compared to his more EDM-influenced tracks, this feels a bit subdued. But, its perky hook has a real throwback quality that suits his voice well.
Pentagon – Burnin’ Love (2018)
Taken from their Japanese discography, Burnin’ Love represents a Pentagon sound I have great fondness for. The group is in full funk-pop mode here, bounding along mighty rhythm guitar and blasts of celebratory brass. I love all the instrumental flourishes on this one. They really drive the verses forward, keeping momentum high. Like Key’s track, much of Burnin’ Love’s appeal comes down to that fantastic guitar. This song has a more sprightly energy, and benefits from the diversity of Pentagon’s vocals. It could do with a stronger hook, but overall this is too much fun to ignore. It’s nice to hear E-Dawn, too!
Red Velvet – LP (2019)
As expected from its title, LP hinges on a vintage sound. The synths have a cool warbly effect, lending the track an off-kilter vibe that’s kind of jazzy. I suppose LP fits within the group’s “velvet” oeuvre, but its upbeat chorus borrows some of the energy from their “red” material. In this way, the track is a nice blend of all their charms. There are more exciting songs on this mini album, but LP is a slow burn success. The skittering percussion in the bridge is particularly nice, complete with a saxophone solo to send the song into the stratosphere.
A.C.E – Slow Dive (2019)
In some ways Slow Dive’s energy reminds me of A.C.E’s current title track Higher, though this one is a little more reserved in nature. It builds to a really nice chorus, harnessing a surging melody that moves from emotive croon to chant-along hook. I’m not as big a fan of the instrumental, though. There’s a lot going on here, and most of the elements feel overly familiar to this era of K-pop. The result is a bit murky. Slow Dive could have used a more focused instrumental, preferably with one or two killer sounds that helped it stand apart. Without that ingredient, the song is most satisfying when its chorus comes back around.
Kim Hyun Joong – Gentleman (2013)
Putting legal issues aside, Kim Hyung Joon released a fair share of great post-SS501 pop. Gentleman is definitely among his stronger material, bursting forward on an incredibly catchy hook and sprightly synth-based instrumental. That bubbling electro beat is tons of fun, and creates the perfect base for the song’s giddy melodies. I could do without some of the vocal effects, but they’re not overdone. And though the ultra-catchy chorus has the potential to grate, it never outstays its welcome. The beatboxing breakdown during the bridge is an awesome touch, matching the percussive production.
Fifth: A.C.E – Slow Dive
Fourth: Kim Hyun Joong – Gentleman
Third: Red Velvet – LP
Second: Key – The Duty Of Love
First: Pentagon – Burnin’ Love
Congratulations to Pentagon’s Burnin’ Love – the fifth winner of my Battle of the B-sides! This was a VERY strong round, and I think any of my top four could have won with different competition.
Readers, what do you think? Did you discover any hidden gems? Leave your own ranking in the comments!