Battle of the B-Sides: AOA, AKMU, Taeyang, 4minute, BTS

Battle of the B-sidesK-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 Nine

AOA – Under The Street Light (2014)

The title of this song instantly conjures imagery, and the music further paints in the details. This is a lower-key approach to the girls’ Brave Brothers sound, pulsing on a gentle beat with muted synths and a reserved groove. The vocals are airy and light throughout, occasionally meeting for bursts of harmony. It’s a very pleasant combination – a come down of sorts after listening to their higher-octane material. I wouldn’t call it an album highlight, but its important for groups to have songs like this to bring more dimension to their discography.

 Hooks 7
 Production 8
 Longevity 8
 Bias 7

AKMU – Freedom (2019)

I remember being quite frustrated by Freedom the first time through. I wanted it to absolutely explode, but it never did. The entire song is build-up – a continual tease for a catharsis that never comes. I’m still salty about that approach, but I can also appreciate the song for what it is. I love how the guitar drives the rhythm. It’s like the whole track is perched atop an uneasy loop, which really increases anticipation. The melody in the chorus is very nice, delivering a ton of movement as the phrasing speeds up. And, I’m a big fan of the added guitar in the second verse. Give me more of that excitement, AKMU. I want to feel the freedom — not the build up to the freedom!

 Hooks 8
 Production 8
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8
 RATING 8.25

Taeyang – This Ain’t It (2014)

Taeyang simply kills this style of emotive ballad. His voice is unique within K-pop, and I love when it’s placed front and center like this. The production here is very stripped back. It’s largely acoustic guitar with some ornamentation thrown over the top. And though the chorus harnesses a nice melody, I wish there was a bit more going on within the track. We wait until the explosive bridge for things to really build to a more powerful sound, and even here the song doesn’t quite knock the roof off. It’s a beautiful track, but Taeyang has stronger offerings within this same vibe.

 Hooks 7
 Production 7
 Longevity 8
 Bias 8

4minute – I’m Ok (2012)

We’re definitely stuck in a slow-to-midtempo gear today, aren’t we? 4minute pull off the style well, and it’s nice to hear their vocals given more spotlight. I’m Ok offsets its pensive verses with a chorus that goes for the jugular. I’m not sure there’s anything particularly unique about the track, but this is a well-worn formula that’s always satisfying. However, the repetitive hook quickly becomes monotonous. I would have loved to hear more of a build within the structure of the track. I almost lose interest midway through.

 Hooks 7
 Production 7
 Longevity 7
 Bias 7

BTS – Coffee (2013)

Oh, how I miss this style from BTS! Just listen to how smooth their vocals sound, freed from unnecessary processing and effects. I often complain about “coffeehouse” music, but I think this is a brilliant example of what that sub-genre can be. BTS beef up the sound with an amiable groove, dynamic rap and excellent chorus. There’s even an electric guitar solo toward the end! The whole thing goes down so easy. It’s languid and laidback, but never boring. That’s a difficult balance to pull off. The guys’ performance is key, offering enough tonal and rhythmic diversity to keep things interesting.

 Hooks 9
 Production 8
 Longevity 9
 Bias 8

My Verdict:

Fifth: 4minute – I’m Ok
Fourth: AOA – Under The Street Light
Third: Taeyang – This Ain’t It
Second: AKMU – Freedom

First: BTS – Coffee

Congratulations to BTS’s Coffee – the ninth 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!


12 thoughts on “Battle of the B-Sides: AOA, AKMU, Taeyang, 4minute, BTS

  1. I do think Under The Street Light is pretty. Not anything that catches my attention, but the airiness and harmonies create a great vocal line. The production is maybe a bit too minimal for me this time, but it does work.

    I think I really like the sounds of Freedom more than the actual construction of the song. I like the guitars and the violins of the whole song and the chorus isn’t a bad chorus. But it’s a chorus that doesn’t help elevate the song, just continuing the flow rather than setting a pivotal shift. Which is fine since that’s probably how it was intended to be but it doesn’t quite feel right to me. It sounds like a movie song honestly.

    This Ain’t It does have some beautiful sounds, and it’s an enjoyable listen though definitely not anything amazing. It takes time to build up, but there’s some good moments in it in the beginning parts. I probably would listen to this from time to time, but maybe not repeatedly like I would other songs.

    I’m OK is definitely pretty boring. Just too repetitive without any kind of switch ups or build up.

    I like the pretty pianos in Coffee. It’s a bit off-kilter but still melodic and fitting honestly. They sound very nice even if the lyrics definitely just float by me. The rhythm of the raps and execution are nice. I think I would’ve preferred the electric guitar be the entire bridge rather than buried under their voices. It’s a good song even if .

    I’m OK < Under The Street Light <<< Freedom < Coffee < This Ain't It

    I was debating whether I liked Coffee or This Ain't It more. This Ain't ended up winning because I was engaged more with it than Coffee despite it being a by standard ballad by all means. The melody and subtleness really worked for me personally. Coffee was a nice sounding but there were things I wished were just a little different and my attention was never quite as caught.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, this sounds like a crazy idea, but hear me out – BTS and Silk Sonic collab on an English cover of this song. it will be 10,000 times better than that last thing, and should pull in a ton of non-Kpop fans. We all went nuts over Leave the Door open, that’s the territory they should be mining. Thank you for sharing this, I’m starting to dig into BTS’s Bsides, and this is a great one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. BTS had an album called OU812? lolz

    AkMu “Freedom” on top for me.
    The performance is taut like a coiled spring that never sproings. It reminds me of Roy Kim songs – both being one fiddle away from a romping stomping contemporary bluegrass song. This song would be awesome live up in the mountains with a bluegrass band complete with double bass bowing out the deep longs notes, a banjo picking out the electric guitar chords instead of a strum, and a fiddle just killing it with short sharp multi-string bowing and a killer solo. In my dreams, this is this song’s potential.

    But even missing those, I like the song anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. AOA – Under The Street Light is by far the winner here for me here.
    It may not be the most beautifully written or virtuosically performed song on this list, but I am biased towards the aesthetic of restrained city at nighttime songs driven by a keyboard. Sade, Blue Six, some Portishead and Toni Braxton…

    I love the strained whisper vocals.
    AOA is one of those groups I really wish I was tuned into during their heyday


  5. oh wow, VINTAGE BTS! I miss their balance this way and Dark & Wild is an underrated album too. Speaking of underrated, Volume up as an EP is really great also, even if I’ve always been more partial to ‘say my name’ and the ICON ‘Dream Racer’


  6. Did you know “Coffee” is actually a cover? Or, technically it is? The chorus is more or less the only thing they kept from the original.

    Certainly a different feeling.


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