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-One
NCT 127 – City 127 (지금 우리) (2018)
I love when SM artists opt for a throwback hip-hop/r&b sound. Nearly anything would have worked on top of City 127’s engaging beat, but the song doesn’t skimp on great vocals and satisfying melody. As much as I love that hook, the piano-infused stomp of the instrumental is the clear standout. This song is a real head-nodder. It’s laidback but lively, and the production feels warmer and less canned than a lot of idol music. It also strikes a great balance between the group’s vocalists and rappers, giving each an important role.
Woodz – Memories (2020)
I wasn’t a huge follower of Woodz prior to the first album under his new stage name, but I remember being quite impressed with this whole package. Even the slower songs like Memories felt authentic and fully-realized. Woodz is a very flexible performer, and it’s fun to watch him skirt between genres. Memories is a relatively straightforward piano ballad, but its rock and blues influences lend it a more dynamic sound. The vocal performance is expressive, driving home the sentiment without going overboard. I don’t often opt for ballads, but this is lovely.
Hyolyn – Closer (2013)
Sometimes I think my shuffle button is some sort of intentional DJ, because Closer makes for a seamless follow-up to Memories. As soon as that flourish of organ kicks off the track, it’s clear we’re in for a stirring, blues-influenced torch song. Hyolyn is an incredible vocalist, able to elevate everything she touches. I’m gonna lose my reputation as a ballad grump, because I quite like this song too. The heft of the instrumental compliments Hyolyn’s vocal style well, crafting a series of mini-climaxes that keep the track compelling throughout. I might as well copy-and-paste the rating from Woodz’s song!
P1Harmony – Pyramid (2021)
Some of my favorite K-pop albums could be classified as idol hip-hop, but I’m not a fan of posturing or the shoehorning-in of trends that don’t feel natural to a group. So far, P1Harmony’s albums have a real continuity to them. A song like Pyramid knows what it wants to be and fully commits. Because of this, its sound is quite successful. The beat has a tense, claustrophobic energy that keeps things moving, and the guys offer varying tones and styles that prevent monotony. This easily could have been a title track.
Gugudan – Lovesick (2018)
Pour one out for Gugudan. So much potential wasted, right? Lovesick definitely feels like an album track, but it’s the kind I tend to like. It has a breezy, mid-tempo energy but a surprisingly sprightly instrumental. The melodies could definitely be sharpened, but the track gives off a sentimental vibe that’s very pleasing. The insistent drumrolls are a nice touch, but I would have loved to hear the song build to a more striking climax.
Fifth: Gugudan – Lovesick
Fourth: Woodz – Memories
Third: Hyolyn – Closer
Second: P1Harmony – Pyramid
First: NCT 127 – City 127
Congratulations to NCT 127’s City 127 – the thirty-first 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!