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 Fifty-Two
With Kara making their long-awaited comeback last week, it’s the perfect time to give them their own Battle of the B-sides feature! We’ll kick off with a b-side from their just-released album: the emotive ballad Oxygen. My mind doesn’t immediately go to ballads when I think of Kara’s music, but I suppose a song like this was inevitable at this point. The ladies sound great and there are some nice melodic flourishes here – particularly in the chorus. I like how stripped back the arrangement is. It establishes sentiment without leaning on obvious touches.
Same Heart (똑 같은 맘) (2009)
Kara were not lying when they titled this album “Revolution.” Its follow-up single Mr. took the industry by storm and immortalized the group forever. The rest of the album is filled with sturdy dance pop that encapsulates K-pop’s early wave of Sweetune goodness. Same Heart is enjoyable, if slight. Its bounding, synth-fueled beat almost reminds me of a polka, though it’s given more of a power pop sheen. The vocal layering in the chorus elevates the whole thing. Same Heart was actually given a budget music video, but was never an official single.
Way opens the group’s Pandora album with a slightly more mature sound, though it’s pure Sweetune bliss through and through. The song harnesses a sprightly electro beat, ornamented with orchestral synths that give it a swoopy, seesawing energy. There are portions of the song that flirt with a muted, jazzy style, but we end things on a high as Way climaxes in a gorgeous key change. It’s a wonderful middle ground between pure pop and quirky novelty.
What’s This (이게뭐야) (2008)
Sweetune were just beginning to find their way in 2008 and What’s This delivers many hallmarks that would later develop into incredible pop music. It’s driven by celebratory brass synth, overdriven guitars and a light-on-its-feet beat that keeps things sugary sweet. The percussion in the second verse is a real treat, throwing a curveball without losing momentum. And though a stronger series of melodies would put this over the top, What’s This is still very solid early-Kara material. Interestingly, a “plastic” version of this song was released a year later. It has more of a processed, electronic feel.
Kara get their groove on with the shimmering dance pop of 2Night. At this point, their producers were in peak form and we hear that skill all over this track. It’s funky and bright and stuffed with satisfying flourishes. Despite sounding very Sweetune in execution, this is actually a Full8loom production. It represents a slight evolution in the group’s sound, driven by synths and dance floor grooves as before, but just a little sultrier.
Fourth: Same Heart
Third: What’s This
Congratulations to Kara’s 2Night – the fifty-second 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!