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 Fifteen
Onew – Shine On Me (2018)
I’m continually surprised at how many ballads come up when I press “shuffle” for this feature! I’m not a huge ballad fan, though I do enjoy Onew’s voice. It’s used wonderfully here, and Shine On Me’s sparseness allows full focus on his performance. Beyond that, the track is mostly driven by guitar. An acoustic strum provides the rhythm, while hazy filters of electric guitar bring the atmosphere. The final product is tactile and moody, but I don’t think it amounts to much. There’s just not enough melodic variety for me.
Seventeen – Fearless (2020)
Seventeen take a daring, percussive stride with Fearless, delivering a powerful energy. I really like the arrangement on this – especially that electric guitar. The track has a dynamic pulse, anchored by a steady drive that gives it a real rock feel. Seventeen provide the necessary firepower when it comes to vocal and performance. The only thing that drags Fearless down is its melody. It feels so one-note, as the chorus is essentially a simple chant repeated over and over. The verses offer a bit more diversity, but a knockout refrain would have helped this really soar.
Deux – Confusion Of Consciousness (1995)
We’re going WAY back in time with this one! Deux are K-pop pioneers, helping to introduce hip-hop and new jack swing to the market in the early 90’s. This track is very much within that realm, bounding along an energetic beat with injections of brass and a catchy synth line. The mix is a little messy, but the energy is infectious. I would’ve preferred more nuance in the guys’ delivery (they’re basically shouting or growling the entire way through), but there are a lot of elements here I enjoy. Unfortunately, the whole track passes by without finding a particularly memorable hook.
VIXX – Black Out (2017)
VIXX have a vastly underrated selection of b-sides, and Black Out fits within that category. This is a brisk electro-pop stomper that surges with energy. The chunky beat has great dimension, offsetting the lighter synths that run over the top. And after a breathless build, Black Out drops into a funky two-part chorus that’s very satisfying. I could do without the breakdown in the bridge, but the track maintains its overall momentum quite well. The last thirty seconds are especially fantastic. I love the rhythmic guitar in the outro.
BoA – Ordinary Day (2010)
The piano line that opens Ordinary Day has such a sentimental feel. The insistent, clap-along beat gives the track an uptempo appeal, even if the melody feels more suited to balladry. BoA’s commanding voice drives it all. Even though this isn’t really my style when it comes to pop music, I love how Ordinary Day builds. The addition of strings gives a nice swell to the pre-chorus, as the melody rises to a gentle crescendo. But, it’s those verses (and that piano!) that really sells me. There’s something so comforting about a song like this.
Fifth: Onew – Shine On Me
Fourth: Deux – Confusion Of Consciousness
Third: BoA – Ordinary Day
Second: Seventeen – Fearless
First: VIXX – Black Out
Congratulations to VIXX’s Black Out – the fifteenth 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!