All the best B-sides you’ve never heard of, volume 1.
1. SNUPER, Hide and Seek: SNUPER is so little known it pains me. Their music is some of the most high-quality K-pop out there, and you only have to look as far as their latest release, 4th mini-album repackage “The Star of Stars,” to find the proof. “Hide and Seek” threads tropical EDM elements with a steady base of acoustic guitar, overlaying the island rhythm with a melancholy melody. The contrasting elements mesh like two primary colors blending together to create something new. It’s like something KARD would do but more intricate. Don’t hesitate to listen to the rest of “The Star of Stars” if you enjoy this song.
2. Rothy, Stars: This solo artist just debuted last week, but the single is so good that I had to include it on the very next playlist I made. “Stars” is a lovely R&B-touched piano ballad, and Rothy has a low, sweet tone that you can’t forget after hearing it. The hook is excellent—the song sets up the expectation that the chorus will feature long, dramatic notes and drawn-out phrasing, but instead it uses quicker phrasing to advance the song’s rhythm in an ear-pleasing way. “Stars” is the debut of the month for sure.
3. Oh My Girl, Cupid: Honestly, guys, it’s hard for me to maintain a semi-professional tone while talking about Oh My Girl, who I think is the single most underrated girl group in K-pop (well, maybe besides Red Velvet, but Red Velvet is a well-known name and besides I think Red Velvet should rule the world, so that opinion is in no way based in logic). OMG debuted in 2015, the same year as TWICE, and were overshadowed by the megagroup, but their main vocalist and main rapper are two of the most talented women in the industry, and there’s no lack of depth in the group either. OMG has a consistently creative (some have said weird) sound that “Cupid” represents faithfully. I’m recommending their debut because it showcases their talents, but don’t hesitate to give their later work a try, because each new release offers an evolved sound and style.
4. B.I.G, Hello Hello: 5-piece boy group B.I.G has been around for three years and in that time has put out some big bops, such as this funky dance track. With a rollicking hip hop beat whose heavy production recalls second generation K-pop, “Hello Hello” is a feel-gooder that shows off some solid vocals and low-tone rap. If you enjoy this, you’ll also love the dramatic, genre-fusing “Aphrodite.”
5. Suran, Walking: Suran has no interest in quality holes, so she puts just as much time and effort into the creation of her B-sides as into her title tracks. Her most recent EP, “Walkin’,” is a testament to this fact, with opening track “Walking” demonstrating Suran’s superior handle on chill-pop. My favorite thing about the track is Suran’s voice, particularly the background vocals when they hit unexpected notes (the bridge is spectacular in this respect), but fans of single “Wine” will also enjoy the familiarly wubbing, cool-colored instrumental.
6. ROMEO, Stay With Me: ROMEO is another excruciatingly unknown group that deserves a much bigger fanbase for their great music and unceasing hard work. Until this year, ROMEO’s title songs—though always very impressive in terms of composition, arrangement, and performance—had some overproduction issues that prevented me getting deep into the group’s discography, but 2017 took them in a different direction from their established SHINee’s-little-brothers jazz pop. “Stay With Me,” ROMEO’s latest title, surprised me with a moody melody over a driving mid-tempo beat that’s extremely effective. If it doesn’t hit you the first time, listen to it once more and you’ll be hooked—it’s one of those growers.
7. CNBLUE, When I Was Young: This pop-infused track by K-rock band CNBLUE is a song that balances chill and catchy surprisingly well. “When I Was Young” has an addicting chorus breakdown that, to speak precisely, isn’t even so much a breakdown as a space for moods to be set. The structure develops as the song moves forward into the second and third choruses which, instead of separating the vocal melody from the breakdown, overlap the two. “When I Was Young” combines breeziness and complexity in a way that is hard not to put on repeat.
8. WJSN (Cosmic Girls), BeBe: “BeBe” is one of those rarer girl group songs where the cute concept actually advances the song quality, rather than holding it back or just standing alongside it. Whereas other songs that fall into the cute concept trope often sacrifice melody and rhythm for cute-sounding sing-talking, the cute concept in “BeBe” pushes for quick, sweet soundbites of vocals: for example, in the second part of the chorus, where distinct vocal parts pass rapid-fire for exciting melodic flow and rich rhythm play. WJSN’s rap talents are not to be underestimated, by the way.
9. Lee Changsub, At the End: “At the End,” BTOB vocalist Changsub’s solo track for the group’s 2017 solo project “Piece of BTOB,” is a rock ballad written and composed by Changsub himself. It’s extremely moving, so much so that I wish the man had pushed Cube Ent to put it on one of BTOB’s group releases. Whoever arranged the instrumental is a genius, because the movements in dynamic are amazing—especially all the complex rhythms playing into the second verse and prechorus. Changsub’s unique creamy tone touches the powerful instrumental with a delicateness that provides the song with a sense of balance between heavy and light.
10. B.A.P., Fermata: This gorgeous ballad is straight off of one of the best albums of the entirety of 2016, B.A.P.’s inspired “Noir.” This was the album led by “Skydive,” which everyone heard and everyone liked, but which in no way indicates the depth of the B-sides that followed it. The first minute of “Fermata” tricks you into thinking it’s a piano ballad, but then there’s this wonderfully satisfying and gentle bass drop at the end of the first chorus, where the song hits an almost R&B groove. The dynamic builds steadily over the course of the song with new layers of vocal harmonies, percussion, and electric guitar, making for a delicate but dramatic atmospheric production that I wouldn’t hesitate to call one of B.A.P.’s best songs of all time.
Underrated K-pop Playlist the First
1. SNUPER, Hide and Seek
2. Rothy, Stars
3. Oh My Girl, Cupid
4. B.I.G, Hello Hello
5. Suran, Walking
6. ROMEO, Stay With Me
7. CNBLUE, When I Was Young
8. WJSN (Cosmic Girls), BeBe
9. Lee Changsub, At the End
10. B.A.P., Fermata