Welcome back to the Music Dispatch, and part two of my last year in review! Tomorrow I’ll list my favorite singles of 2021. Today, we take a look at b-sides.
Does anyone even really care about b-sides other than K-Pop stans? I’m not sure. I think pop fans kind of do, but I’ve never heard hip hop stans talk about that sort of thing; certainly not metal fans, or house fans, that think they’re the only ones really understanding the music they’re into. (Pots and pans is an acquired taste, I’ll be fair).
Here’s my selection of my favorite non-singles of the year. Any song that was not promoted is eligible. Also, because the list is glaringly obvious, we’ll just start with the #1 here.
#1 Prism - The Boyz
The guitar opening with the intense, overwhelming kicks right after... Prism, prism, prism. Did you expect anything else? It’s one of the most overwhelming openings to a K-Pop album I’ve come across, a tour-de-force through instrumental alone, which is alternatively made for the club or for a sleek motorcycle chase at night in your action flick of choice. The raps by both Eric and Sunwoo are sleek and seductive, every vocal performance confident and assured, and in other artist’s hands, the instrumental would totally drown them out. Not here, where Younghoon — for the first time in many, many b-sides and singles — croons beautifully over the last chorus, a victory lap in a song that sounds like a victory lap itself. In a totally different 2021, this and Drink It were The Boyz’s comeback titles, the songs that put them onto a wildly different league than the rest of their generation. As it stands, this gem is buried in a japanese album Breaking Dawn and may not even get a performance unless a Japan Tour happens.
#2 Victim - The War on Drugs
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
A six minutes long track has no business feeling like three, let alone this catchy. Yet this track off Adam Granduciel newest album, itself a major hommage to 80s dad and arena rock — think U2 — casts a spell wherein the narrator ruminates about their desire, the way the person they’re infatuated with turns to close to nothing (Whooooo are ya), and it’s easy to imagine a music video here that is slightly inspired by The Third Man, complete with the 80s shtick of closeups, an unseemly man on the mic, and a vague, nonexistent woman floating around. It’s the piano chord that really makes the song as hypnotic as it is, while both drums and guitar propel to greater and greater heights, culminating to a killer instrumental break, only to go back to that piano chord. It’s the most perfect nod to a currently overwrought, over-covered era in pop music — and in 2021, nothing came close to its excellence.
#3 Get Into It (Yuh) - Doja Cat
Doja Cat’s team is in a bind. Last year’s viral sensation Say So was not even conceived as a single until TikTok made it happen. Now, with Planet Her and Doja Cat’s starpower strong enough to get the singles on decent charting spots, it’s still the b-sides, and even unreleased songs, blowing up via fancams and TikTok. Get Into It (Yuh) will not stay a b-side for very long; for Rolling Stone, Doja Cat has already told us the plot of its upcoming MV. But on the other hand, you have to wonder why this bubbly, catchy song was relegated to b-side position for this long. As is standard for many Doja Cat songs, it is her vocal performance and her pen that drive this song — a high-pitched vocals for the chorus that recalls Playboi Carti, complete with effortless high notes at the end, an easy rap throughout. Bitches better yuh like Ariana, and lovers love Doja’s body like Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. Get me out my zone / I’m just talking comfort, shawty, she sings, but it’s hard to imagine Doja ever have a comfort zone. Everything she does feels new and exciting and wildly different from previous work. Only difference compared to her Moo! days is, now the whole world knows.
#4 NYC Power Elite I - Death From Above 1979
Is 4 Lovers
Dance-punk. The subgenre that mixes punk instruments with the dance spirit of disco and funk isn’t exactly the most popular in 2021, and it’s hard to imagine seriously noisy music like DFA1979’s in a club. But that’s not for lack of them trying, or for lack of the songs being bad! Is 4 Lovers is unfortunately not the tour-de-force that the first half promises and the second half fails to deliver, but the drums and bass of Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler respectively deliver a gnarly, vicious and danceable anthem in NYC Power Elite I (with a negligible second half that really should have been tacked on to this song to begin with). The jolt of electricity that runs through this song is second to none. By the time this lean song ends, you’ll want to hit repeat again for two reasons: the chanted N Y C! Power Elite! and I’mmm just likeeee youuuuuuu. Is it possible to dance on the floor while thrashing your guitar? I’m asking for a friend here...
#5 First Time - Lucy Dacus
Lucy Dacus’ third album, as is most of her discography so far, is concerned with looking back and meticulously remembering without falling to the pitholes of nostalgia. And while everything isn’t perfect, Dacus is perfect at conjuring the odd mood you get when you get caught up in your own past. A wistful energy runs through First Time, something close to regret as Dacus recalls her first time with a partner. You can’t feel it for the first time... a second time..., she intones, but it’s resignation and admonishment both. Most of the song is concerned with a secret relationship that is sexual and young in nature, except the stunning climax, which reveals Dacus in the here and now, wondering if she could do it again, with this person. The drums drive most of the song here, turning the song to something to play at a queer coming of age film; full of details and fuzzy guitars, Dacus quietly commanding throughout, she invites us to a world that blurs at the edges, just like a real memory would.
#6 Marry You - SHINee
Don’t Call Me
Right after the forceful, powerful title track, SHINee’s newest album quickly gives way to far more upbeat and gentler tones, most of it focused on romantic, marital love. Marry You starts especially subdued and gentle compared to previous track Heart Attack (classic SHINee) and succeeding track CØDE (Misconceptions-era SHINee), the members almost coy in vocal performance before it gives way to an ebullient, surging all-English chorus that sounds like falling in love and being in love at once. There’s just something about that loud girl I... wanna marry you, right here, right now that always brings a smile to my face. More importantly, it doesn’t sound like previous SHINee eras, which shows that this 13-year-old group can still, and probably always will, bring something new and exciting to the table. It sounds sunny and charming both, and in a year that did not give much of (metaphorical) sunshine and serotonin, any replacement will do.
#7 Megan Monday Freestyle - Megan Thee Stallion
Something for thee Hotties
“Tina Snow for them hoes that ain’t know,” Megan thee Stallion says at the end of this song with a laugh. She’s right, because at this point, who doesn’t know Tina Snow? Originally just a Twitter clip, this archival footage finally made it on streaming and on an album, and it still sounds as amazing as on the timeline. Over a humming, sparse beat, Megan does what she does best: take shots at Trey Songz without naming him, be unabashedly sexual, aim at her haters, and assert her status as a rap legend in the making. And most stunningly, this is all freestyled. In a year where Stalli graduated college and still dominated conversation, be it through numerous photoshoots, made-up Tiktoks, and Thot Shit, this is a welcome victory lap that I can’t stop repeating. Clocking at just under two minutes, this one is a certified repeat, and is a welcome reminder that her hottest, coldest alter ego was always ready at her disposal. Real motherfucking hot girl shit!
#8 New Me - Cosmic Girls (WJSN)
UNNATURAL as a title track didn’t do much for me, but this subdued, synth-dripped b-side track of nine (twelve?)-member girlgroup Cosmic Girls I instantly loved. Every part of this song works, be it the soft percussion, the twinkling synths in the chorus, the assured vocals that soar high in a satisfying climax, Exy’s excellent rap, or the way the song fakes an ending only to start back up again with a stunning outro. In K-Pop, “mature” is a viable career path to follow, and this is very much a mature, sophisticated vibe throughout. And though synth was very en vogue for K-Pop this year, be it riffing closely from The Weeknd or Doja Cat, this track not only did something different, it also did it much better than the rest. Now my only hope is that tracks like these make it for WJSN’s title tracks in the future.
#9 SOS - TWICE
Taste of Love
Picking Twice in a best of b-side list must be a low-hanging fruit to anyone keeping up with the group’s perfect, perfect musical output over the years. And though certainly other songs could have been on this spot here - F.I.L.A from their third album is a big one, or Baby Blue Love from this mini album, it’s SOS that I was enarmored it from first listen and looped over and over. Written by member Dahyun and over a melancholy, twinkling beat that is vaguely reminiscent of pop tracks from the late 90s, Twice sing about a precarious mental situation that only the lover can save them from (S.O.S I like it like that). It not only makes for a perfect finish for the rest of the record, but it also marks a new, interesting entry for Twice’s discography that hasn’t been explored previously.
#10 1/6 - Sunmi
Normally, when there’s a good b-side that trumps the title track, K-Pop fans are liable to call it a title track contender. And normally I don’t really buy it, but it’s hard not to listen to the title track of this record, then to the single You Can’t Sit With Us, and not wish any of the other b-sides had been promoted instead. 1/6 made me hit replay most often. Recalling her best song to date Black Pearl, the synths and bass puts you right in the mindset of a sunset summer drive, with Sunmi’s gentle vocals throughout detailing how she would like to escape the weight of her anxiety, preferably sending it to the moon, where everything is one sixth of the weight on Earth. No doubt the most relatable topic in a world of COVID and too many variants barring us from going anywhere, but as Sunmi steadily raises her profile from each release, it still feels like a personal glimpse to a version of herself she hasn’t shown on record before.