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 week is a little different, focusing on the work of my favorite K-pop production team Sweetune!
Battle of the B-sides: Round Thirty-Four
Bump.y – New Day (2011)
Sweetune never pushed too far into the J-pop market, and that feels like a missed opportunity. Their sound is so suited to Japanese taste. Instead, they offered a few odds and ends sprinkled across a variety of groups. Girl group Bump.y didn’t get the best of the producers, even if New Day is a serviceable, sugary bop. Its insistent sleigh bells are well-suited to this month, while those bright stabs of synth are welcome any time of year. The melody feels pretty by-the-numbers, but Sweetune on autopilot is still enjoyable.
Snuper – Jekyll, Hyde (80’s Remix Version) (2015)
I’m not sure if any other mix of this song actually exists, but that’s okay because I can’t imagine this song without its strong 80’s sound. I love everything about this. I love the chugging beat, the sharp stabs of descending synth, the bursts of guitar and the circling, pop-on-steroids hook. Sweetune’s partnership with Snuper bore stronger music than this, but even a throwaway OST like this has major teeth. It thrives on its own kitschiness.
A.DE – Rainy Day (2016)
After their commercial peak, Sweetune worked with many under-the-radar acts. But, they still delivered fantastic material – even on b-sides. Rainy Day pulses with the team’s trademark energy, driven by propulsive synths and layered vocals. The melody feels like a retread of past glories, but that’s neither here nor there when your past glories are so great. Despite being released in 2016, this feels very much like a Kara single circa 2009.
Infinite – In the Summer (2012)
I’ve written about every Infinite song already, but I can’t run a Sweetune feature without them! Rather than focus on their ear for an excellent synth texture, In The Summer indicates how sharp their melody-writing skills are. The production is simple and clean – a strumming guitar and the group’s gorgeous harmonies. But, the song compels thanks to its gorgeous melody. It’s like a beefed-up campfire singalong, performed by the best in the business.
Kara – Umbrella (2010)
We finish this week with another of Sweetune’s legendary collaborators. Kara made their name on Sweetune’s signature sound, and that definitely extends to their b-sides. Umbrella is one of my favorites. It’s such an ebullient song, charging forward on a turbo-powered, shuffling beat ornamented with swooping strings. It feels both old-fashioned and modern, anchored by a towering hook that sweeps in with utter grandeur. This is K-pop at its biggest and boldest.
Fifth: Bump.y – New Day
Fourth: A.DE – Rainy Day
Third: Snuper – Jekyll, Hyde (80’s Remix Version)
Second: Infinite – In The Summer
First: Kara – Umbrella
Congratulations to Kara’s Umbrella – the thirty-fourth 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!