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-Nine
SF9 – Different (달라) (2018)
Okay, the verses of Different hit a lot of personal peeves for me. We’ve got heavy vocal effects, a plonky beat and melody that feels overly repetitive. Thankfully, the track delivers a nice build during its pre-chorus, salvaging some of my issues with the arrangement. The chorus lands with a bit of a thud, though the instrumental ends with a brisk flourish. It’s as if Different is eager to break free from the confines of its shell and become something more daring.
BTOB – Neverland (ft. G.NA) (2015)
This song is far more hip-hop influenced than you might expect from BTOB’s music, employing a classic groove that would feel right at home during the late nineties. I really like the repeated piano riff, which blends well with the funkier synth that comes in for the hook. I also love how they got G.NA to provide the vocal for the chorus, adding new texture to an already groovy effort. It’s all very smooth and nostalgic.
Yuri – Illusion (꿈) (2018)
If you’re going to opt for a more minimalist energy, you’d better be sure you’ve got an instrumental captivating enough to compensate for the lack of drama. With Illusion, Yuri found a fantastic match. The groove here is unique and engrossing on its own. It’s also the perfect contrast to Yuri’s lighter vocals. There’s not much of a song thrown over the top, but I don’t think it matters much. Production like this is practically designed to vamp your way through, weaving vocals in between the contours of the track.
Seventeen – Let Me Hear You Say (2019)
This is a really strong album, and I remember almost picking Let Me Hear You Say as my “buried treasure.” It’s not the style of song I tend to love, but its melodies are very compelling. I’m particularly fond of the second part of the pre-chorus, which flips structure while injecting the instrumental with bright synth textures. And although the chorus is essentially a trendy drop, it’s driven by a catchy vocal hook that lends the weight needed to craft a standout centerpiece.
TRCNG – Utopia (2018)
TRNCG may have had a short, stop/start career, but they released a surprising amount of great music within those confines. Utopia is a testament to their versatility, harnessing the power of a knockout ballad with heartier, dynamic energy. The verses are par for the course, but that swirling chorus is a total winner. Comprised of two distinct parts, the refrains compliment yet contrast each other, resulting in a sort of call and response stricture that’s highly effective. I love how the instrumental drops out at the end, replaced by hand claps. That’s a classic pop trick, and always a winner!
Fifth: SF9 – Victorious
Fourth: Yuri – Illusion
Third: BTOB – Neverland (ft. G.NA)
Second: TRCNG – Utopia
First: Seventeen – Let Me Hear You Say
Congratulations to Seventeen’s Let Me Hear You Say – the thirty-ninth 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!