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 Ten
Laboum – Hush (2019)
I’m not sure what happened to Laboum’s music. There was a period of time (2015-16) where they were churning out such high-quality pop. As interest faded, they moved toward far more generic material. I found this particular album to be immensely forgettable, and Hush really illustrates why. Yes, it paints a beguiling mood. But, where are the hooks? Nothing about the melody catches my attention, and the production never introduces any interesting elements. I enjoy some of the vocal flourishes, but that’s about it.
SHINee – Up & Down (2010)
Unlike the last track, Up & Down boasts a megawatt hook and knows exactly what to do with it. The song is quite repetitive, but that’s the point. The chorus is a major earworm, coming across as a musical taunt as the instrumental lurches forward. The verses have a halting arrangement, resulting in a rhythm that feels almost robotic. And as the song goes on, off-kilter flourishes are brought in to support the central hook. This comes to head during Up & Down’s finale, which devolves into pure madness as repetition battles against repetition to forge some unexpected, odd arrangements. You’ll either love it or hate it!
B.A.P – With You (2014)
I feel like B.A.P’s discography often gets overlooked, and that’s a shame. Their albums are stuffed with great b-sides. With You might not be a highlight, but it’s a testament to the power of a well-executed midtempo pop track. We’ve heard With You’s schmaltzy sound a million times before, and that’s okay. The song knows which sentiment it wants to sell and does a solid job convincing you to listen. The instrumental has a resounding stomp that keeps the energy consistent even as we move between vocal and rap. The chorus is a little underwhelming in its repetition, but I’m not expecting miracles from a song like this. (I would have appreciated a key change, though…)
U-KISS – Party All The Time (Eli & AJ unit) (2013)
Coming after the last three songs, this is like a burst of energy! U-KISS are another group with a super-solid discography that often goes overlooked, and Party All The Time is an example of how fun their music can be. Honestly, this song is pretty stupid, from its ultra-repetitive hook to the generic dance beat. But, I appreciate how relentlessly upbeat it is. There are a few nice melodic turns buried within the incessant “party all the time” refrain, and Eli and AJ are clearly not taking themselves too seriously. However, the track threatens to wear out its welcome pretty quickly. It could’ve been just as effective with the final minute shaved off.
BoA – Honey & Diamonds (2020)
BoA has a way of effortlessly adjusting to trends, bringing her unique talent to whatever K-pop era she’s working in. Honey & Diamonds feels fresh but timeless, grooving over a skittering dance beat that occasionally dips into funkier territory. The production is light and rhythmic, and BoA’s performance follows suit. I’m not as sold on the song itself. Other than the titular hook that opens the track and follows each chorus, none of the melodies really knock me out. But as an enjoyable dance track, Honey & Diamonds definitely succeeds.
Fifth: Laboum – Hush
Fourth: B.A.P – With You
Third: BoA – Honey & Diamonds
Second: U-KISS – Party All The Time
First: SHINee – Up & Down
Congratulations to SHINee’s Up & Down – the tenth 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!