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 Twenty
After School – Broken Heart (2012)
Before America was seen as the shining pearl of global promotion, K-pop acts established very lucrative careers in Japan. After School have a great J-pop discography, and sub-unit track Broken Heart is evidence of this. This dance banger is turbo-charged with distorted guitar and squiggly, aggressive electronics. The instrumental offers a sturdy foundation for the girls’ attitude-infused performance. The melody isn’t among the group’s most memorable, but it has a nice punch that compliments the production. I love this sound.
ToppDogg – Fever (2014)
Though ToppDogg never gained much mainstream fame, their relatively small discography is bursting with off-kilter highlights. Fever is a beast of a pop song, barely contained within its three-minute frame. The arrangement is heavily digitized, with bright synths and plenty of vocal effects. But, I think this approach is warranted here, as it only adds to Fever’s intensity. By the time we swerve into a dubstep breakdown, the musical train is almost off the tracks. Odd vocal refrains bounce around, taunting and challenging the main melody. This won’t be for everyone, but I find it a fascinating mess.
T-ara – I’m So Bad (2012)
In many ways, I’m So Bad is quintessential T-ara. Its glossy pop shell draws from elements of trot music while remaining modern and trendy. Though I’m sure it’s largely synthesized, the instrumental is anchored by accordion. To me, this has always given the track a Bavarian or Scandinavian feel, even if the performance itself is very K-pop. This blend shouldn’t work, but I’m So Bad is sprightly and addictive. A catchy chorus helps things go down easy, while the driving electro beat anchors the song firmly in 2012.
Girls’ Generation (SNSD) – How Great Is Your Love (2011)
We just finished a Girls’ Generation battle last week, but my randomizer seems to think we’re not done yet! In this case, we’ve got a ballad. The group’s ballads are always a treat, even if they rarely deliver the energy I seek out. How Great Is Your Love is very sentimental, fueled by a light strings section to give it a fantasy-like appeal. It reminds me of so many slower offerings from the early 2000’s teen pop boom. It’s a very nostalgic sound for me. But, I wish the track was powered by a melody that felt more memorable and dynamic.
ITZY – Sorry Not Sorry (2021)
Girl groups are overwhelming the guys this week! Sorry Not Sorry arrived as ITZY’s music began to deviate from the style that had first drawn me to the group, and this song represents that shift. It has some great moments (that bluesy riff, the sassy vocal performance) along with some of my personal pet peeves (bratty, chanted chorus, loud but shallow arrangement). In this way, it’s kind of a middle-ground between “old” and “new” ITZY. As such, it’s hard for me to fully embrace even if I think there are some interesting ideas happening here.
Fifth: Girls’ Generation (SNSD) – How Great Is Your Love
Fourth: ITZY – Sorry Not Sorry
Third: T-ara – I’m So Bad
Second: ToppDogg – Fever
First: After School – Broken Heart
Congratulations to After School’s Broken Heart – the twentieth 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!