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 Seventeen
Heo Young Saeng – I Know (2013)
SS501’s Heo Young Saeng is an underrated beneficiary of Sweetune’s magic touch. They produced a lot of his solo work, including a couple songs on this wonderful mini album. Surprisingly, I Know isn’t one of those productions — despite sounding like Sweetune through and through. We’ve got those fist-pumping synths, that bright, effusive melody and a tempo that will get your pulse racing. I know a song like this won’t be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me. It actually feels like an anime opening, complete with all the musical cheese you’d expect.
Just B – My Way (2021)
This song was only released a few weeks ago, so it hasn’t yet enjoyed the benefit of time. My Way has a few excellent ideas (that Tron-like electro squiggle running underneath) and a great beat drop, but the song often gets in its own way. It’s a claustrophobic brew of influences that don’t always fit together. I long for a moment of release, but the track never delivers. Instead, it constantly builds tension without much pay-off. Its individual moments are strong enough to compensate, but it feels like there’s an excellent song trapped inside this maelstrom of sounds.
Trouble Maker – Attention (2013)
Trouble Maker was such a great project, resulting in some truly iconic singles. The accompanying b-sides were more of a mixed bag, but Attention is one of the strongest. Pulsing atop a brassy backbone, the song allows both HyunA and Hyunseong to unleash their charisma over a catchy instrumental that will certainly get your head moving. The chorus is disarming in its simplicity, but its freewheeling vibe complements the track’s energy. It harnesses an old-school appeal without coming across as dated – largely because of the duo’s engaging performance.
Stray Kids – Hero’s Soup (2018)
Stray Kids’ I Am You mini album took longer to grow on me than earlier efforts, and I think that’s down to its more pensive energy. Hero’s Soup is a great example of how authentic the guys sound when opting for a more subdued, emotional sound. It’s very much b-side material, but the muted production sets a mood that the group expands upon with their performance. The pop-lover in me longs for a stronger melody during the chorus, but I actually like the droning quality of the hook. It feels almost lullaby-esque, casting a reflective, sentimental vibe.
Girls’ Generation (SNSD) – Dear. Mom (2009)
We don’t hear this style of straightforward, sentimental ballad much in K-pop anymore, but they were a staple in mid-to-late 00’s albums. It takes a very strong melody for a song like this to capture my attention, and while I can appreciate the sentiment behind Dear. Mom, I’m sure I’d enjoy it more if I was a native Korean speaker. The vocals are fantastic and it’s nice to hear them front and center without much distraction, but this simply isn’t my kind of song. Even a group as amazing as Girls’ Generation can’t do much to make it interesting.
Fifth: Girls’ Generation (SNSD) – Dear. Mom
Fourth: Stray Kids – Hero’s Soup
Third: Just B – My Way
Second: Trouble Maker – Attention
First: Heo Young Saeng – I Know
Congratulations to Heo Young Saeng’s I Know – the seventeenth 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!