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 Thirty
Turbo – Dancing Queen (댄싱퀸) (2015)
Turbo made a long-awaited reunion with 2015’s Again album, and its songs were pretty much what you’d expect. The high-octane title track drew influence from 90’s techno, while many of its b-sides reached back to earlier times in different ways. Dancing Queen feels like an updated version of 1996’s Twist King. Given its title, I’m sure that’s intentional. This has never been my favorite sound for the group, and I find parts of this a little cloying. It’s harmless fluff, but nothing I’d come back to often.
Teen Top – Hot Like Fire (2015)
The mini album this song comes from is super strong, and much of that is thanks to the involvement of producers Black Eyed Pilseung. Hot Like Fire is an upbeat EDM dance track, bounding along the kind of rugged synth favored by global acts like LMFAO several years earlier. The post-chorus shifts to half-time, which felt fresh back in 2015 before the approach became an overused trope. This moment is preceded by a breezier hook that compliments the song’s brisk tempo.
Beast – V.I.U (Very Important U) (2010)
You’ve got to love that title! It’s so K-pop circa 2011. In fact, it could easily be an idol group’s name. V.I.U is very much of its time, leaning heavily on vocal effects and the kind of processed electronic dance beat that characterized music of the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. This isn’t much of a song (or production), but V.I.U knows it has a catchy hook and exploits that over and over. I like the rap in the bridge, and the punchy hook is simple but effective. It’s definitely not title track material, but the sounds and energy evokes nostalgia for simpler K-pop times.
AKMU – Haughty Girl (2016)
AKMU have a lot of songs I adore, but their albums tend to fall into this drowsy, downtempo fare quite often. There’s nothing wrong with Haughty Girl, and I’m sure an understanding of Korean would make it more enjoyable. But, the chill energy and simple arrangement work better as a vibe than an attention-grabbing pop track. It would make amazing background music to soundtrack daily tasks, and certainly conjures a relaxing atmosphere. However, there are so many AKMU tracks I’d opt for before this one.
GFriend – Distance (한 뼘) (2016)
Harmonica and a faux reggae beat are two things I wouldn’t expect from a GFriend song, but Distance is intent on delivering something different. This feels like a good old campfire singalong – uncluttered and catchy without the sort of K-pop histrionics that would make it too much of a heavy lift. I can’t hear anything but the verses of Robbie Williams’ Better Man in Distance‘s chorus — a reference so obscure that I’m sure it’s an unintentional coincidence. Whatever the case, this is an enjoyable way to clear the air between upbeat bangers, but it’s not one of GFriend’s best.
Fifth: Turbo – Dancing Queen
Fourth: AKMU – Haughty Girl
Third: GFriend – Distance
Second: Beast – V.I.U (Very Important U)
First: Teen Top – Hot Like Fire
Congratulations to Teen Top’s Hot Like Fire – the thirtieth 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!