Battle of the B-Sides: NCT Edition
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 round will be a little different, focusing on the discography of a single artist (or in this case, a collective of artists!).
NCT 127 – Lemonade (2021)
We’re opening this feature by going all the way back to… last week. Lemonade is taken from NCT 127’s newest album. I’ve seen some fans suggest this as an alternative title track to Sticker. I’m not sure I agree with that. The song is not substantially more satisfying and lacks Sticker‘s ear-catching production. Instead, Lemonade is a basic NCT hip-hop track, taking many expected turns. I enjoy the descending vocals in the chorus, but the hook feels too sparse and repetitive. Thankfully, the song builds to a fun shout-along climax, offering a peek at the bombastic fun we should have been having the entire time.
NCT 127 – Lipstick (2021)
We’ve got another NCT 127 track, this time pitched to the Japanese market. Their J-pop output has been a mixed bag, and this fits somewhere in the middle. It has that prickly, abrasive sound we’ve come to expect from the group, but culminates in a robust chorus. Unfortunately, all the connective tissue surrounding this hook feels messy. The skittering beat delivers a captivating, frenetic energy but the verses could do with more focus and structure. By the time we arrive at the smooth R&B bridge, Lipstick has offered a little bit of everything without ever landing a knockout punch.
NCT 127 – Day Dream (2020)
I didn’t mean for this whole feature to be focused on the 127 unit, but that seems to be where my randomizer wants to go! Day Dream is a nice break from the complex, unsettled sounds of the two previous tracks. This song catches the group in emotive, atmospheric territory. It has a slight alt-rock sound at times, driven by a subdued trip-hop beat and muted keys. The verses are enjoyable if slight, but the surging pre-chorus gets things going. This segment ends on a high note (literally!) and segues brilliantly into a halting, dreamlike chorus.
NCT 127 – Blow My Mind (2019)
I guess we’re stuck with 127 yet again! In this case, I won’t complain. Blow My Mind embraces a more straightforward pop sound, pulsing on an electro throb that gradually builds to a resounding chorus. Though it’s modern in approach, the general sound takes me back to the early 00’s. There’s a satisfying continuity to the songwriting, with both vocals and rap slotting into the established groove. I long for a fuller pre-chorus, but the empty space makes for great contrast with the exciting hook. Blow My Mind may be straightforward and familiar, but it’s buoyed by a great performance.
NCT Dream – My Page (2017)
NCT Dream rush in at the tail end of the party to set things right! I don’t always think Dream’s material is the strongest NCT has to offer, but their early stuff is pretty hard to beat. My Page is such fun. The bright, upbeat dance sound is totally suited to my taste, and the production is sleek and propulsive. The production isn’t reinventing the wheel, but My Page is anchored by the strongest melody of any of these five tracks. The two-part chorus is well-calibrated, bringing a surging energy that compliments the percolating electronics. And of course, Dream’s youthful vocals pull it all together in convincing fashion.
Fifth: NCT 127 – Lemonade
Fourth: NCT 127 – Lipstick
Third: NCT 127 – Day Dream
Second: NCT 127 – Blow My Mind
First: NCT Dream – My Page
Congratulations to NCT Dream’s My Page – the twenty-third 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!