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 Sixteen
Infinite F – It’s You (2014)
I thought I’d never write about an Infinite song as part of this feature, but I’d forgotten about sub-units – most of which I haven’t reviewed yet. Infinite F is an interesting case, bringing together L, Sungyeol and Sungjong for what could best be described as a “cute” unit. It’s You is fresh and fun and clearly not meant to be taken too seriously. With that said, its affected style can be grating if you’re not in the mood for it. Luckily, the song’s bones are strong. The chorus, in particular, is a lot of fun. They even bring out the obligatory key change for the climax!
FIXX – Beat It (2012)
I love when my shuffle button lands on a super obscure band. FIX had a couple great singles, but most of their b-sides hinge on generic sounds of the time. In Beat It’s case, we’re talking heavy vocal effects and tinny percussion. I like the continual chant that drives this track forward, but the song could do with a stronger hook. It’s not particularly catchy, and the instrumental doesn’t do much to distinguish it from the crowd. On the plus side, this general sound brings back all sorts of nostalgia (even if that nostalgia is for songs that are way stronger!).
Astro – One & Only (2020)
It might be unfair to include a fan song like this in a battle, since its intentions are more sentimental than its competitors. But, fan-directed material should also be well-written and produced. One & Only is polished but forgettable. Its mid-tempo bounce replicates the sound of so many other tracks, and struggles to find a melody worth returning to. Thankfully, Astro salvage the generic turns with a strong performance. The chorus has an enjoyable swing to it, especially as the refrain ascends to brief spikes of climax. The dramatic bridge is also an easy standout.
Wonder Girls – John Doe (2015)
Okay, this is almost unfair. Placing a song from one of my all-time favorite K-pop albums makes for tough competition. Like the other tracks on Reboot, John Doe is an incredible feaast of retro touchstones. I adore its celebratory brass sound, underpinned by syncopated beats that recall Latin freestyle music of the late 80’s. The girls drive it all forward with undeniable charisma, grooving on that synth-powered beat. There are stronger hooks (and songs) on the album, but the energy here is just fantastic.
CNBlue – Blue Stars (2020)
Blue Stars carries many of CNBlue’s charms, delivering a pleasant, toe-tapping beat and soft rock sound. It’s not the style I tend to gravitate toward, but I appreciate the amiable energy and comfortable performance. The chorus sounds almost like American country music, thriving on strummed guitar and a simple melody. For better or worse, Iit’s the kind of song you could sing around the campfire. And though it doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s hard not to get caught up in the buoyancy of its upbeat rhythm.
Fifth: FIX – Beat It
Fourth: Astro – One & Only
Third: CNBlue – Blue Stars
Second: Infinite F – I Like You
First: Wonder Girls – John Doe
Congratulations to Wonder Girls’ John Doe – the sixteenth 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!