K-Pop Kineme: B-Sides

I got off work early today — and by early I mean 8pm — so I have some time to go on another stream-of-consciousness kuda about K-Pop.

In my previous post, I sort of walked you through the beginnings of my interest in Korean music. Long story short, I got hooked on Japanese dramas, which got me listening to Japanese boy bands, which eventually led me to fangirling over Korean idols. I jammed along to pretty much every basic hit of the 2000s, from Wonder Girls’ “Nobody” to Big Bang’s “Lies” to 2NE1’s “Fire.”

Like every K-Pop fan who, a) was not Korean, and b) was not in South Korea, my access to South Korean music at that time was limited to what I could find online. Myx, the Filipino music channel, had started playing K-music but they only played the big hits. They did not not give any airtime to music videos from less popular Korean artists, so I turned to the Internet to look for more.

And because I was already online looking up Korean music videos and live performances — and also because I just loved wasting my time scouring the web for new music to listen to — I started searching for “b-side” songs by Korean idols and other Korean musicians.

DBSK’s “Hey Girl” became one of my favorites, and so did MC Mong’s “Dalmatian Love.” I also liked 2NE1’s “Love is Ouch”, 4Minute’s “Anjullae”, and BTS’ “Miss Right.” These songs did not get promoted in music videos or in weekly broadcast shows, ergo I consider them b-side tracks.

But, technically, they’re not b-side tracks at all.

For the uninitiated, a b-side is a secondary set of tracks that is on the “other” side of a cassette tape or a phonograph disc. It is the opposite of the a-side, the front side which has the carrier songs, or the songs intended by the producers to become more popular.

By the time I started discovering music on my own, this a-side b-side thing was not a thing anymore. Studio albums were released in one-sided CDs, and people like me who were too poor to buy original copies just went online and downloaded mp3s. Online music piracy became a huge pain in the ass for the corporate overlords. It was a massive issue all over the world, especially in South Korea where everyone and their moms had access to high-speed Internet.

In 2004, first generation idols Uhm Jung-hwa and Kang Ta (of H.O.T.) joined a street protest against LG’s plan to release a mobile phone with an mp3 player. At that time, adding this feature was seen as a move that would only promote piracy and deprive artists of revenue. Companies soon started to pool their efforts in expanding their market overseas not only to make more money but also to augment the losses that were accruing locally.

Exporting music wasn’t the only strategy that K-Pop adopted in the 2000s. South Korea was also an early adapter to the so-called “digitization” of music production.

As early as the 90s, knock-off CDs were already being sold in South Korea’s street markets, and these CDs were pirated compilations of the most popular songs at the time. When the Internet became more widely used in the country, people also started selectively downloading just one or two songs from otherwise full-length albums.

Instead of attempting to correct this change in consumer behavior, music companies responded by shrinking the size of the albums. The idea was to produce few but top-quality tracks that would be competitive and profitable not only in local markets but also in the international arena. This was also the reason why top companies like SM Entertainment started collaborating with foreign composers, according to a study by Jimmyn Parc and Shin Dong Kim.

So, essentially, “b-sides” are barely a thing in K-Pop anymore, both literally and figuratively. Almost every song in every album is meant to be of “single” quality — hence, the “single album” concept. In other parts of the world, a single is literally a single song, while an album is a collection of many songs. South Korea does things differently — they have “single albums” which are physical releases (e.g. CD, LP, etc.) that contain some x-number of songs, with x being an arbitrary number between 1 to…5?

Single albums are different from EPs, because EPs or extended plays are called mini albums in South Korea. Single albums and mini albums are for sure not the same thing. Single albums are also different from full-length albums and from single singles. A single album can have just one song and still not qualify as a single single, and a full-length album can be a collection of multiple single albums. Dude, it’s weird.

Anyway, I think that’s enough kuda for tonight. Bye!

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