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!
You can check out all rounds of my Battle of the B-sides here!
Battle of the B-sides: Round Forty-Eight
BoA – Butterfly (2019)
It’s funny that this song popped up on shuffle first because I’ve recently been thinking about BoA. Her excellent Girls On Top music video was just remastered by SM, reminding me how much I adore that song. Butterfly falls much closer to coffeeshop sounds and, as a result, isn’t really for me. But, BoA’s always-strong vocals and the jazzy, driving beat give it more bite than most songs of this nature. We need her back for a 2022 comeback (that isn’t Got The Beat…).
Luminous – Marionette (2022)
This song was released only a couple weeks ago as part of Luminous’s first full album. There are a few gems (Creature) on this album, but Marionette opens the project on a sour note. The circus-like synths set the scene for a dynamic concept, but the track trudges along on boring percussion and a lackadaisical energy that never shifts into gear. It’s an odd opener because the rest of the album sounds nothing like it.
Monsta X – Thriller (2020)
It’s always ballsy to name your song “Thriller.” Whether you like it or not, you’re instantly set up against one of the best songs and albums of all time. Monsta X’s take on the title is nowhere near MJ-level greatness, but it still brings some drama. I’m not a huge fan of the stuttering energy that fuels this beat, though it’s enhanced by symphonic samples that bring great texture. Overall, this doesn’t have enough of an engaging centerpiece to really hook me. It feels like the producers are testing out a bunch of ideas but are struggling to find an equally memorable song to frame them around.
4minute – Already Gone (2011)
This is very much a product of its time. I mean, just listen to those chintzy synths and insistent autotune! Already Gone could certainly benefit from production that wasn’t so trendy. The songwriting is simple and straightforward, with sing-talky verses segueing into a chorus that barely changes the arrangement or energy. It’s not top-tier 4minute (or top-tier K-pop), but if you’re looking for an instant time capsule this song will definitely take you back. It scores some bonus points for nostalgia, even if it’s quite skippable overall.
Sechs Kies – Confirmation (확인) (1997)
We’re going all the way back to the 90’s with this one! As with most K-pop of the era, Confirmation is very emblematic of 90’s sounds. But as far as gen-1 idol tracks go, this is a great example. The percussion hits hard, the guitar is expertly deployed to give the arrangement more punch, and the energy is kept at a celebratory high throughout. All Confirmation needs is a stronger series of hooks to stand out among its many peers. Still, in a weak ‘Battle of the B-sides’ round, this is an easy victor.
Fifth: Luminous – Marionette
Fourth: BoA – Butterfly
Third: 4minute – Already Gone
Second: Monsta X – Thriller
First: Sechs Kies – Confirmation
Congratulations to Sechs Kies’ Confirmation – the forty-eighth 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!
An often included subject in the comments here is “trend”. A new release drops and one of the first things it will be called out on is whether it broke new ground by being inventive/creative or it latched on to a current style/theme that wears out its welcome within a few months due to saturation. We all mostly agree that copycat production and boilerplate trends offer diminishing returns. At the start of a trend, those songs are given more leeway; after months of the “same ole/same ole”, we start punishing new trendy tracks as being lazy and boring.
At the time that those comments are made, the songs had just released so we’re all treating those releases as such. But your comment on 4minute’s “Already Gone” made me realize something else that is a curse of repetitive song craft. The risk of being historically indistinguishable. Meaning, being viewed as “very much a product of its time” or “could certainly benefit from production that wasn’t so trendy”.
When I think back on songs from a few years ago, the ones that were part of a trendy wave seam to have less replay value. Not because of the specific song, but because of the trend that wore out its welcome. Or, I’ll listen to one or two songs from that trend cycle, but then be ready to move on. For me, I can listen to a few songs from the “tropical” period or the recent “girl crush” bend, then it’s time for something different.
But the songs that colored outside the lines? ..the ones that really set themselves apart because of experimental design or creative artistry? Those are timeless and have more nostalgic value for me. I’m more likely to go back to those than “whatever was hip at the time”.
Just my 2p.
Let me add to my initial point with a couple of examples…
Here are THREE releases, all dropped within a week of one another from the SAME group. Each one is charming and stands on its own merits. How is it possible for a group with a fraction of the industry attention that most groups listed on this site have able to release three separate songs within a week that each are worthy of my attention and playlist placement?
Rocking Doll – “Pom Pom”:
Ref #1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zw423bbZjA
Rocking Doll – “I Just Wanna Be with You”:
Ref #2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JahVUg9b1Qg
Rocking Doll – “Drop down”:
Ref #3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ptqRBPQVds
These three aren’t even considered their title track (“Grey”). Now, are these the best song in the genre? I don’t know, you tell me; but that’s also not the point. The point is that Rocking Doll was able to release 3 solid songs in rabid succession without latching on to an over-milked teat (pardon the vernacular).
Rocking Doll – “Grey”:
Ref #4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ujvl9qatsig
D’oh.. ..tripped the alarm again. 😛
We need more Sechskies appreciation. I remember seeing their reunion on Infinite Challenges. It was so epic seeing them reunite with their fans who are now all grown up