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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!