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-Three
Elris – No Big Deal (2020)
No Big Deal came out at the beginning of 2020, just before the retro boom took over. But, it feels very at home in 2021, down to its slinky bass-driven chorus. It makes me wonder how the song would have fared if the agency held onto it just a bit longer. It’s a great example of this approach, ebbing and flowing with stabs of bright synth and a confident vocal from the girls. In fact, I prefer this to most of their actual title tracks. The climactic rap bridge is particularly nice.
Wonder Girls – Act Cool (ft. San E) (2011)
I’ve always found San E’s rapping to be obnoxious, and his intro to this track doesn’t instill confidence. Add some ear-piercing whistling (because there’s nothing like someone blowing a whistle right in your face…) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. I’m not sure this song is meant to be taken seriously, but even as a joke it’s not very pleasant. I like the experimental synth and some of the rapping is funny, but that chorus is a big NO. This is pretty cringe.
Oh My Girl – My Doll (2021)
The ladies are well-represented this week! My Doll comes from Oh My Girl’s latest mini album, and I remember seeing it praised quite often upon release. It does a great job delivering its off-kilter mood, down to the effects put over some of the vocals. But, this brand of mumble pop (thank you, Billie Eilish…) isn’t really for me. Thankfully, Oh My Girl’s beautiful tones carry the track to the chorus, which harnesses an earworm melody to great effect. I also like the slurred, choppy vocal ad-libs after the second chorus, which soon segue into a synth-heavy bridge.
B1A4 – Ready To Go (2012)
B1A4 released quite a few original Japanese tracks throughout their career and they were generally quite strong. Ready To Go is a straightforward dance-pop track, very much of its era. The instrumental is generic, but has a satisfying surge that lends the song anthemic heft. The melody is also generic, which blunts the overall effect. B1A4’s character pokes through in fits and starts, but I think anyone could have recorded this song to similar results. Still, I’m always up for some solid upbeat pop.
NCT 127 – Run Back 2 U (2018)
Run Back 2 U is the kind of song that could do with some streamlining. Its centerpiece is an immensely enjoyable EDM freakout, tied to a refrain that pulses with energy. But, this is surrounded by a needlessly fitful verse and post-chorus. Run Back 2 U swerves into a Gang-like breakdown, interrupting the flow. The instrumental break in verse two is more satisfying, but still feels as if it was cribbed from another track. I wish we could split this into two songs: a hip-hop banger and an EDM anthem. As it is, Run Back 2 U doesn’t fully satisfy either craving.
Fifth: Wonder Girls – Act Cool (ft. San E)
Fourth: B1A4 – Ready To Go
Third: NCT 127 – Run Back 2 U
Second: Oh My Girl – My Doll
First: Elris – No Big Deal
Congratulations to Elris’s No Big Deal – the thirty-third 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!