It’s finally that time of year every music fan looks forward to most—reviews, listicles, and rankings of this year’s best and most iconic releases. And for K-pop, 2022 has delivered on all fronts, from title tracks and music videos, but specifically with its B-sides.
We often focus on the lead singles in K-pop that have changed the trajectory of our year as listeners. And while they are significant and usually the most popular songs on a record, the real gems tend to lie beneath the surface, either growing cult followings among fans or being criminally underappreciated.
Now that the year is winding down and these tracks have had a chance to marinate in fans’ meticulously curated playlists, here are 20 of the best K-pop B-sides in 2022, in no particular order.
Fire Alarm – NCT Dream
Hearing the words “loud, zany, and boisterous” is nothing new when describing a track from the NCT multiverse – it’s what they’re known to do best. However, NCT Dream’s ‘Fire Alarm’ has a particular je ne sais quoi that’s infectious and unlike anything, the group has done before.
Opening the septet’s second studio album, Glitch Mode, the hip-hop track is littered with heavy bass, rhythmic chants and claps, and harmonious synths that are all relentless and energetic throughout. But the highlight is its blaring siren motifs inspired by the Korean crime-comedy film, Attack the Gas Station. It’s a far cry from the bubble-licious teen pop we were introduced to in 2016, but as the seven members continue exploring new genres and themes that reflect their maturity, ‘Fire Alarm’ is exactly the wake-up call the world needed in 2022.
Tally – BLACKPINK
BLACKPINK’s second studio album, ‘BORN PINK’, was divisive, to say the least. While many have praised the record for combining the best of Western and K-pop cultures, others felt it lacked musical development and innovation. However, one thing the album never hindered was showing us a more intimate and rebellious side of the group than in previous releases.
‘Tally’ is just one of those examples. This mid-tempo pop song calls out the double standards women face as opposed to their male peers while also expressing BLACKPINK’s freedom and autonomy to do as they please. “I say fuck it when I feel it / ‘cause no one’s keeping tally, I do what I want with who I like,” the singers croon. While the message itself isn’t groundbreaking, its lyricism is brutally honest and raw in a way fans hadn’t seen from the group until now.
BLACKPINK’s ‘Tally’ isn’t just another girl power anthem; it’s a hard look in the mirror for those who turn these young women’s (and any artist’s) private lives into a circus. Just let the music do the talking.
March – SEVENTEEN
Diving deep into SEVENTEEN’s discography is like digging for treasure, a quest to uncover the most unimaginable gems, jewels, and riches galore. Similarly, diving into ‘Face the Sun’s anthemic B-side ‘March’, is like the soundtrack to the quest itself—adventurous, dynamic, and more intoxicating with each listen. The track further leans into SEVENTEEN’s rock stint, as seen with previous songs such as ‘Rock With You’ and ‘2 Minus 1’, but with an implied Western/cowboy aesthetic. The weight of its electric guitar never falters throughout its runtime, and when the chorus hits, you feel it running through your veins like dopamine as the group saddles up to ride at dawn, marching with their heads held high and their prowess on full display.
Fever – MAX Changmin
Let it be known that if you’re looking for a showstopping performer with lungs literally handcrafted by the gods, look no further than TVXQ member MAX Changmin. Tiptoeing the lines of ferocity and elegance, ‘Fever’ proudly boasts Changmin’s skilled vocal range while also allowing him to show off his irresistible charm in the process. It’s almost as if the listener is his prey, toying with their emotions until he gets what he wants—the lighthearted chimes of the piano lure you in until he’s ready to pounce in time with the electric guitar. It’s an endless game of push-and-pull that still has the hairs on the back of our necks standing at attention.
Another Life – KEY
“Leave all the madness and let go to another life,” singer KEY croons in this epic journey traveling through space and time. ‘Another Life’, an all-English track from the ‘Gasoline’ album, is an electropop dream that, in all honesty, sounds way too good to be real. From KEY’s 2021 album ‘Bad Love’ to now, it’s clear the SHINee member has an affinity for music from the ‘80s, specifically the synth-heavy dance music from that era; ‘Another Life’ is no exception.
From beginning to end, the track somehow feels both spacious and full all at once, with an ethereal atmosphere that suits its otherworldly references to places like Atlantis and the Moon. As KEY’s enticing falsettos glide through the chorus, reality slips through your fingers at the speed of light, whisking you off into his own cosmic world where anything and everything is possible. Simply put, it’s pure magic.
Hurt – NewJeans
You could honestly pick any song from NewJeans’ debut EP, and it would deserve a spot on this list. But considering there were (reluctantly) only four tracks and two of them were singles, the somber yet prideful ‘Hurt’ seemed to best fit the bill. With cotton candy-like vocals, the five members croon over a more minimalistic beat with soft “ooh-ooh’s” in the background, almost giving it more of an acoustic or a capella vibe to it. Meanwhile, the lyrics signal an attempt to guard one’s heart to avoid the heartache that comes with rejection and the inevitable silence. While the EP’s other tracks are filled with upbeat ‘90s and Y2K musical elements, ‘Hurt’ plays into the intimacy of 2000s R&B as if it were ripped right out of that era.
Anywhere But Home – Seulgi
Sitting in silence can be one of the hardest things to do when avoiding your insecurities, your fears, and your intrusive thoughts. Instead of confronting these obstacles and overcoming them, we tend to distract ourselves, avoiding isolation and any triggers whenever possible – that’s what ‘Anywhere But Home’ is from Seulgi’s debut EP, ’28 Reasons’. In this disco-style mix of soft pop and R&B, the Red Velvet songstress breezes her way in and out through the bass-ridden verses before diving deep into an ocean of daydreams the groovy chorus has to offer.
‘Anywhere But Home’ flawlessly bottles up this complicated emotion and presents it in a way that’s alluring, haunting, and healing all in one breath. “When I feel like crying on a day like this, ride, jump on, and I have no destination…just take me anywhere but home.”
Basics – TWICE
If there’s one thing about TWICE is that they’re always going to serve fun, season-appropriate hits for the whole family to enjoy. You want a cute Halloween-themed anthem? ‘TT‘. A new, wintery classic for the Christmas holidays? ‘Merry & Happy‘. Need a jam to have fun in the sun during the summertime? “Basics,” the third track from their latest ‘Between 1&2’ EP, is your new go-to. The song fully showcases the group’s signature bright and bubbly persona while adding pockets of retro ‘90s dance-pop within its structure and quick hi-hats. The girls sprinkle in just enough attitude and lightheartedness to keep ‘Basics’ everything but basic for many summers to come.
BYE BYE – Red Velvet
Drenched in a velvety smooth aura, ‘BYE BYE’ can only be described as the icing on Red Velvet’s cake this year. As the quintet topped off the year with a continuation of The Reve Festival series, ‘BYE BYE’ takes the same R&B dance-pop elements we’re used to from Red Velvet and adds a pinch of the classical genre with a sample of Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’. And per usual, the girls kick absolute ass—vocally—with the most heavenly adlibs, breathy falsettos, and one hell of a belt from Miss Wendy.
While some of Red Velvet’s lead singles can be a hit or miss for audiences, their B-side tracks are almost always some of the most revered in the group’s discography, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Think of this as a reminder of why Red Velvet will forever be essential to the K-pop experience.
Crash Landing – NCT 127
One of K-pop’s many strong suits is its ability to adapt and incorporate a multitude of genres from around the world—its producers and songwriters always have their fingers on the pulse for what’s trending and popular worldwide. So, when NCT 127’s ‘Crash Landing’ was described as UK drill-style hip-hop, everything instantly clicked as to why it was the perfect choice for this group.
Blending the nostalgic feel of 2000’s R&B and the fervent UK drill snares and hi-hats, ‘Crash Landing’ magnifies every bit of swagger built into NCT 127. With a galactic opening, some of its highlights include Chicago native Johnny nailing the low and seductive talk-rapping sections, the bouncy chants of the chorus, and the unit’s vocalists showing off as if it was just another Monday for them.
POSE – LOONA
Girl group LOONA is known for being able to balance hard-hitting “girl-crush” concepts just as easily as it does with the more ethereal ones. Juxtaposing the more ethereal tracks on the group’s ‘FL!P That’ EP, ‘Pose’ instantly makes itself known as the “problem child,” if you will. The more hip-hop-inspired song It’s loud, abrasive, and doesn’t take no for an answer as the beat drops with a raspy, “lights, camera, action, pose.” The chanty nature of the chorus lives in the same vein as groups like NCT, which, interestingly enough, is thanks to one of its producers, MZMC, who is known for delivering edgier styles of music for similar boy groups. LOONA, however, manages to make it its own, while taking on “Pose” with copious amounts of confidence and style.
I Don’t Even Mind – Chen
EXO’s Chen is truly the gift that keeps on giving. In his latest release, ‘Last Scene’, the calming singer further explores the ballad genre he’s become synonymous with in recent years. While other B-sides from the EP touch on the orchestral elements of a ballad, ‘I Don’t Even Mind’ differentiates itself by taking the neo-R&B route instead—a first in Chen’s discography. The soft plucks of the added guitar go hand-in-hand with the warmth and comfort illuminating the singer’s voice, like a star touching down on Earth. Even its lyrics, also written by Chen, are breathtakingly beautiful as he navigates love while practicing patience and consideration toward the other person’s feelings for him.
It also doesn’t hurt that seeing Chen perform ‘I Don’t Even Mind’ in the rain sealed the deal as one of his most astonishing ballads yet.
That’$ Money – P1Harmony
If you’re an active K-pop fan and up on the latest groups, then you’ll already know P1Harmony. From their third EP, ‘Disharmony: Find Out’, ‘That’$ Money’ has this boastful energy with hip-hop as its focal point as the members alternate between whispering and yellow various phrases and ending it with, “that’s money.” The raps are fluid and cunning, while the vocals add structure and balance when necessary.
While on the surface, the money references and occasional “cha-ching” sounds might seem like the guys are bragging about their bank accounts, there’s actually a cleverly hidden meaning behind it all. Rather than it being about monetary value, ‘That’$ Money’ emphasises the importance of investing in your dreams and recognising your worth—you can’t put a price tag on a message like that.
HEY – THAMA
“I’m so passionate about you, I don’t give a fuck whether the rumors were true,” has to be one of the most swoon-worthy lines (and deliveries) of 2022. Korean R&B singer THAMA knocks it out of the park with nearly every release, and in his latest single album, ‘Ooh Ooh’, he expertly serenades the listener with its B-side, ‘HEY’. Sonically, the track is a groovy exploration of soul, R&B, and a sprinkle of jazz-inspired chords that ooze out of every corner. The versatility of THAMA’s rich timbre allows him to reach down into the depths of the earth before floating back up to the surface, hovering above the clouds in a mix of airy, melodic notes and talk-singing verses. In all its flirtatious and romantic glory, ‘HEY’ is the type of song that will leave a silly, lovesick grin plastered on your face before you know it.
Love Phobia – ONEW
SHINee’s Onew arguably dropped one of the most musically surprising albums this year with ‘DICE’. Although he’s experienced quite the sonic spectrum throughout his 14 years as a member of SHINee, his solo debut (‘VOICE’) was composed of soft, emotional ballads that highlighted the vocalist’s distinct tonality and skill. With ‘DICE’, however, ONEW opted to break out of the ballad genre and delve into other genres that best showcased his range and artistry.
‘Love Phobia’, described as an alternative pop song, is ONEW at his peak if that’s even possible. Running nearly four minutes long, ‘Love Phobia’ is earnest both in its lyrical content and vocal delivery, a man who is scarred by past love experiences yet craves it with every fiber of his being, and ONEW plays the part to perfection.
Korean rock bands are a refreshing change of pace in an industry that’s driven by and thrives off mostly dance-focused groups. ONEWE, an alt-rock band comprised of five members, always finds fun and inventive ways to blend its rock roots with pop, R&B, and dance music. ‘Trigger_’, written by keyboardist Dongmyeong and bassist CyA, is a push-and-pull between ONEWE’s inherently intense nature and its gentler, softer side—fusing the powerful chords on the guitar with the more electronic hip-hop elements of CyA’s rap sections. Most likely, this choice was intentional, given the song’s message of wanting to rid the world of violence and discrimination with the band’s warm colors. Just as quietly as ‘Trigger_’ starts, it ends with the same level of peace and serenity that makes this track replayable from beginning to end.
Decanting – SUHO
It’s borderline alarming how each EXO member can encapsulate their chosen styles in one album, let alone two. In Suho’s sophomore EP, ‘Grey Suit’, the fearless leader takes listeners on another ride through his unique take on the modern rock genre for a K-pop audience. With different variations of soft rock emanating from the six tracks, ‘Decanting’ delivered on a sensual level that was somewhat surprising but welcomed. With a touch of neo-soul, the track is effortlessly soothing, allowing the listener to melt away as Suho murmurs sweet nothings—lust dripping from every syllable.
Freedom – Girls’ Generation
Girls’ Generation (or SNSD) needs no introduction; their extensive discography and accolades speak for themselves. But as if six studio albums weren’t enough, the octet graced the world’s presence with a seventh for its 15th anniversary. Throughout the ten tracks featured on ‘Forever 1’, Girls’ Generation revisits a myriad of pop genres, but ‘Freedom’ is by far a standout among the rest. Simply put, ‘Freedom’ is described as a “dreamy” synth-pop number with rich harmonies, and after listening to it, there’s no better way to describe it. Like an endless dream sequence, the song takes over your senses until all you can feel, taste, and hear are the heavy bass pounding and silklike synths chiming through your eardrums. “Perfect rhythm, the moment I wanted—freedom.”
B’rave ~ a song for Matilda – Billlie
Groups with rich lore baked into their concepts are usually the most intriguing in terms of creativity, and girl group Billlie definitely sets itself apart as one of those groups. ‘The Billage of Perception: Chapter Two’ is a continuation of the group’s debut EP and storyline but also of Billlie’s many strengths and versatilities. While its lead single, ‘Ring Ma Bell (what a wonderful world)’ is a hard rock number, ‘B’rave ~ a song for Matilda’ is a stark contrast, leaning more towards the pop-R&B spectrum. In this retro-infused track, the members run the gambit of airy falsettos and groovy rap sections comparable to Red Velvet—that’s how you know they’re doing something right.
Sparkling Night – PENTAGON
Kissed by the light of a glittering moon, PENTAGON dazzled in their synth-heavy B-side, ‘Sparkling Night’. The luscious track is nestled at the tail end of the group’s latest EP, ‘In:vite U’, offering a place of solace as the listener is swept off their feet in the throws of vocal caresses and sonic whispers. Written by members KINO and WOOSEOK, a lyric that remains a standout above the rest is, “don’t hurt me, even if it’s a lie / if it’s just you, that’s enough.” Through their heartbreaking pleas for their lover to stay, PENTAGON sparkles and shines brighter than any star in the sky.
Words: Chyenne Tatum