From outside the window, the rain that I had been hoping for flows down,
but just as the dried flowers don’t need water,
time passed so I couldn’t even remember if I wanted it to fall on me.

The MV premiere of “Hotel Lobby” marked the return of Penomeco to the R&B scene. The 30-year-old hitmaker is best known for winning “Breakers” and as of the 20th of April for joining P Nation. Penomeco’s return comes in the wake of his production credits on IU‘s “Empty Cup” and Itzy‘s “Not Shy”. Penomeco’s production in K-pop has occupied much of his creative outlet as of late, making his return as a solo artist a celebrated one.

Penomeco’s “Hotel Lobby” first appeared on ONSTAGE‘s YouTube page on the 5th of March 2020. Originally, the batch of tracks (including “Insomnia”) was specifically released to promote Dry Flower. This is hinted at by the bouquet of flowers shown in the live performance. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, Penomeco decided to delay the album. The album version of “Hotel Lobby” features Verbal Jint who also recently returned to music with his album Inflection Point. 

The MV for “Hotel Lobby” follows a black and white iteration of a hotel entrance and its lobby serving both humans and animals. The CCTV and chauffeur-styled POV bring little interpretation to its rare inclusion of animals other than to indicate the start of Verbal Jint’s verse. This time-lapse shows a future where humans seemingly go to war with aliens. Assumedly the humans lose or at the very least abandon the city in which the hotel is located. As time continues to pass, the robotic staff continues to wait for new patrons.

There is a moment where one of the chauffeurs starts to malfunction in the rain, being instantly replaced with another. The implication points to a future of robotics or a present-day where the working class is easily replaced. Again, the meaning is as ambiguous as the hotel lobby’s central revolving doors. At best, this MV points towards the passage of time. At worst, a simple mood-driven MV to accompany its gorgeous soundtrack.

While “Hotel Lobby” came first, “JAJA” serves as the title single for this album. Its MV also points to a robotic, Wall-E meets Ex-Machina-styled future. It, therefore, becomes clear that “Dry Flower”‘s imagery is composed of a distant future based on films such as Bladerunner 2049. 

The MV seemingly tells a love story between Penomeco’s character and the lead love interest, Kim Hyang-gi. Penomeco’s lyricism here celebrates the little moments — eating pizza and watching movies are treasurable moments, especially when juxtaposed by loneliness.

At the MV’s climax, Penomeco’s lover is presented with a dry flower of the old world they have watched throughout the MV, bringing its meaning to a singular moment. This loving moment is then lost as Penomeco’s character, alongside his Wall-E companion, is left alone and devoid of the love interest; this a daydream dedicated to a past lover.

These loose references are strung together in Penomeco’s newest MV, “Insomnia”. It is revealed in this animated MV that Penomeco’s character has remained in a type of underground bunker. The hotel lobby from “Hotel Lobby” likely being one of the entrances to this underground hotel bunker. Penomeco’s love interest was likely one of the people living in this bunker and Penomeco a robot who looked after her.

“Insomnia” plays chords of the loneliness Penomeco now has since his lover/friend is gone. Unable to sleep and without purpose Penomeco lives within his memories. By the MV’s end, Penomeco leaves the underground bunker and is greeted by a world similar to that of I Am Legend, hopefully without the zombies! A world where nature has retaken the cityscapes and the human species likely extinct. Penomeco ends the MV with an animated variation of “Jaja”‘s ending staying true to the interwoven storytelling of these three MV’s.

Themes of love as a memory and the passing of time point to a record composed in ode to passing moments. This is Penomeco maturing at the end of his twenties, looking both at his future and his past. In creating this record, Penomeco has fossiled the final relationship of his youth.

The album title “Dry Flower” seems a direct conceptual continuation from his previous EP, “Garden”. That EP featured a flower as its album cover, this then presents the new form of that flower having dried over the years. There isn’t a negative connotation to a dry flower here, similar in sentiment to Frank Ocean‘s “Wither”. The album’s narrative seems to follow a relationship from its bubbly start with tracks such as “You Up” and “Jaja” to its lonely conclusion with “Insomnia”. Interestingly, Crush did the opposite with his with HER EP which followed a relationship from end to start.

Production on Dry Flower sees Apro, Made By Me, and Woogie heavily involved. “Actually Pt.2” borrows the backing track of Zico‘s “Actually,” serving as a variation of Zico’s version. While they both use the exact same track produced by Peejay their vocals performances are contrasted. Where Zico’s version and vocals brighten the track’s chorus Penomeco’s version has an emphasis on melody within its verses. It’s a cool moment overall to have two versions of a great song concept while being a lovely nod to Penomeco’s high-school friend.

Penomeco’s record is not without hidden hits either. “Better” featuring Kid Milli has a hook you can swear you have heard before! That is until you realise it is a variation of the hook on “Hotel Lobby.” “Better” is gorgeous in its mood and temptation to do better than ever. While the aforementioned “Insomnia” plays a lullaby so sweet in its loneliness you cannot help but get swept away in its mood.

AOMG has their fingers in this pie too. Both Hoody and Sogumm feature playing off of Penomeco’s storytelling. Both their tracks come in the closing half of the record. It is here where Penomeco shines due to his ability to shapeshift to the needs of the vocalists he features. This playing off of each featured artist turns the end of Dry Flower into the best moment of Korean R&B in 2021 so far!

“Change” featuring Sogumm and production by Woogie is the late-night track indebted to changing your mind on who your bias is. From Woogie to Sogumm and ending rightfully with Penomeco, this is a track that oozes in its sentiment. It belongs in the halls of sensual R&B, so intoxicating in its mood and Sogumm’s delivery everything expected upon seeing her name appear as a feature.

Visually, Penomeco has followed in the footsteps of Kanye West‘s Yeezus as his album cover is a plain CD. This style of album covers has become a symbol of an artist’s most honest release. While a CD as an album cover has become overused of late, here it seems fitting for Penomeco’s most intimate record to date.

Interestingly, both Yeezus and Dry Flower are 10 tracks long, making it an interesting choice for Penomeco to call this record an EP instead of an album like Yeezus.

Another interesting point to this record is the lack of Fanxy Child features. One would have at least expected a Crush feature or even AOMG’s ELO featuring since their collaborative EP, ODD in 2019. “You Up” especially feels like something off of Dean‘s EP 130 Mood: TRBL.

The opening verse’s delivery, alongside the background noise sample, plays very close to Dean’s old sound. I truly would not be surprised if the background vocals are confirmed to be that of Dean’s. Yes, Zico does have arrangement credits on “Actually Pt.2,” but other than this, Penomeco has made this record without his collective’s support.

Overall, Penomeco has released his best body of work to date with Dry Flower. A record that is admittedly more R&B than it is hip-hop. This perhaps showing us where Penomeco finds his greatest comfort creatively.

As a side note, an analysis of Penomeco’s lyrical content was avoided here. This is due to Penomeco having a Wonderwall art class series where he breaks down the songwriting process for “Insomnia” and “Hotel Lobby”. If you’re interested in learning from one of the most gifted songwriters in Korea, be sure to check it out!

(YouTube [1][2]. Images via P Nation and Hypebeast Korea)