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!
This round will be a little different, focusing on the discography of a single artist.
Battle of the B-sides: Round Nineteen
Girls’ Generation – Beautiful Stranger (2011)
Girls’ Generation’s J-pop discography is no joke. In fact, song-for-song I think I prefer it to their Korean output. Beautiful Stranger is a grungy electro-pop banger, walloping listeners with an insistent kick supported by constant distortion. This is tethered to a more electronic backbone, over which the girls deliver a thrilling melody. Beautiful Stranger is all attitude, as evidenced by the charisma dripping from its hooky refrain. And though the track is tethered to a pretty uniform arrangement, it still makes room for some bravura power notes during its climax.
Girls’ Generation – Talk To Me (2010)
Harmonica isn’t an instrument you hear often in K-pop, and its use during the intro of Talk To Me recalls some truly schmaltzy 80’s fare (That’s What Friends Are For, anyone?). Still, I enjoy the texture this element brings to the track. Otherwise, Talk To Me grooves along its loungy, bossa nova beat without a care in the world. It’s almost impossibly light, which wouldn’t usually be to my taste. But, Jessica and Tiffany perform it well and there’s enough to chew on in that instrumental to make this stronger than your average coffeehouse track. I wouldn’t call it a discography highlight, but the song shows just how diverse their sound can be.
Girls’ Generation – Do The Catwalk (2013)
With a title like Do The Catwalk, my expectations are set for a thumping beat and chic sound. This song delivers on the former, though the melody is far brighter and more energetic than I would have thought. This is a good thing, since a cool, aloof sound only gets you so far. Do The Catwalk is pure bubblegum, confidently strutting forward with a pinwheeling whistle hook and series of addictive refrains. The verses are all over the place, but a forceful chorus keeps them in check. At worst, you might call this track repetitive. But, it’s comprised of so many delicious ingredients that that repetition never becomes stale.
Girls’ Generation – I’m A Diamond (2012)
We’re onto the third Japanese track of this feature! I’m A Diamond brings a hip-hop edge to the electro sound the group were pursuing at this time. Though entirely synthesized, the instrumental has the energy and drive of a marching band. This is brought out most impressively during the brass-kissed chorus, but the verses are no slouch either. I love how fast paced the phrasing is, even as the beat itself remains steady and measured. There’s also a great sense of ascension throughout the track as the girls’ vocals battle for supremacy. It’s equal parts robotic precision and confident human emotion.
Girls’ Generation – Stick Wit U (2010)
The group’s Oh/Run Devil Run album was stuffed with a wide variety of genres, at times coming across as more of a grab bag than a cohesive whole. Stick Wit U is one of its more unhinged moments, driven by fitful, chiptune synth. The entire song moves at a clip, barely taking a moment to breathe. Because of this, it can be overwhelming on first listen. But, there are so many great textures tucked into this instrumental. Despite being a Korean track, it feels very influenced by the quirkiness of J-pop. I don’t know that I could take a whole album of this, but I admire its sheer chutzpah.
Fifth: Girls’ Generation – Talk To Me
Fourth: Girls’ Generation – Stick Wit U
Third: Girls’ Generation – Do The Catwalk
Second: Girls’ Generation – I’m A Diamond
First: Girls’ Generation – Beautiful Stranger
Congratulations to Girls’ Generation’s Beautiful Stranger – the nineteenth 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!