Having already established a presence in the realms of law and business, David Yong is now seeking to carve out a name for himself in the K-pop industry.
The latest venture in his multifaceted career, the 35-year-old Singaporean's pursuit of K-pop stardom was the result of Yong's desire to "see the inside out" of South Korea's entertainment scene before setting up businesses in it a couple of years ago.
While simultaneously attending to his duties as the CEO of multinational company Evergreen Group Holdings and a managing partner of boutique law firm YSL Legal LLP, Yong has managed to introduce himself to the K-pop world by means of several releases since 2021. Following his collaboration with 4MEN on the 'My Way', a song for the K-drama School 2021, he teamed up with rapper Kid Milli for 'In My Pocket' in 2022 and MAMAMOO's Moonbyul for his latest single, 'Maybe Love'.
Released eight months after Yong signed a global agency contract with South Korean entertainment agency Rainbowbridge World (RBW), 'Maybe Love' — arguably his biggest team-up to date — is a feel-good number that serves as the perfect track to get yourself acquainted with the artist side of Yong. Not only does it capture his passion for collaborating and trying out new sounds, but it also serves as a preview of the kind of catalogue that he hopes to build for himself.
"At the end of the day, I want to inspire people to, number one, be happy," he shared.
In an interview with Hear65, Yong talked about having a multifaceted career, what it means to be an "influencer CEO", and the process of creating 'Maybe Love' alongside MAMAMOO's Moonbyul.
Tell us about your first encounter with K-pop. Who are your biggest K-pop heroes?
For me, I think the first interaction I had was with BIGBANG. And at that time, Taeyang and GD (G-Dragon) were really role models [to] me. I went to their concert in Singapore, and I think the experience was very eye-opening because they were actually one of the first few Korean acts I'd seen. And before that, I only had experienced seeing some Singapore performances by local artists, and I think that the impact that I saw... it was a whole different experience when I saw BIGBANG perform in Singapore and that really opened my eyes to the world of K-pop.
Another very important experience for me was when I brought my brother and his friends to the JYP's TWICE concert in Singapore, quite some time ago, as well. That was in 2017. At that time, when I managed to get my brother and his friends backstage, all of them were so emotional [and] they started tearing up when they saw TWICE. So I think at that point of time, the impact of K-pop really got to me. I really thought that [its] influence was huge and [that it had] the potential to influence the next generation, the new generation.
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What made you decide to venture into the music industry?
Exactly two years ago, I came over to Korea to start some entertainment businesses and investments. But at that point, I realised that it was really hard to infiltrate the industry if you did not have any prior experience or any networks in this industry. So at that point of time, I thought to myself, "If I really want to do this business well, I have to be involved in some way or another. I have to understand the business to really see the inside out of it." So that was when I decided — about one and a half years ago — to really start making my own music, to make my own network of friends, artists, and other producers to really understand the industry. I think that's really important because if you are just going to come in as a foreign investor [or] as a foreign company to enter into this K-pop entertainment industry just as a businessman, I think that’s going to be very, very hard. I was very fortunate to have to have seniors in the industry guiding me along the way, who were able to give me the right opportunities to be involved in the business as well as, as an artist, [to work on] interesting collaborations and work on very meaningful projects.
"If I really want to do this business well, I have to be involved in some way or another. I have to understand the business to really see the inside out of it."
What was the process of becoming a music artist like for you? Were there any skills you had to pick up or obstacles you had to overcome?
Long ago, I think about 15 years back, I had vocal training from a veteran singer in Singapore, Pan Xiu Qiong. She used to do a lot of classic Chinese or Cantonese hits. I had some training in the past, but after that, I focused on my studies, being a lawyer, as well as my businesses. So I didn't get reconnected [with] the arts and culture scene until maybe about one and a half years ago when I decided that I wanted to be an artist as well. [I began] recalibrating myself — going back to training, mostly training, [and] learning the Korean language and culture.
As a wearer of many hats, how do you ensure that the quality of your work remains consistent across your various ventures?
I think I've been very fortunate [to] have very capable teams in all my different businesses. We've got investments in Singapore, Korea, Japan, and Cambodia. We have very strong teams already in place. Since we started our company, we have had different teams in different divisions, and that helps a lot with the workload and also [in] ensuring that everything proceeds [and] goes on smoothly.
For my entertainment [arm], even though we are very new, I think I'm also very fortunate to have a very strong team growing with me at the same time — planning all my schedules, arranging the right content, [and] the right projects to do. I think all these are very important because, especially for myself, since I do multiple jobs and multiple businesses, I will definitely need different teams supporting me along the way.
"I think business people have a duty to inspire the next generation and also provide solutions and inspiration to society in general."
You've called yourself an "influencer CEO". Could you explain what this term means?
I think business people have a duty to inspire the next generation and also provide solutions and inspiration to society in general. Being an influencer CEO and being a key member of the business society, I want to inspire the next generation to challenge themselves, to not only limit themselves to only one route in life. For example, [if you are] a lawyer, you can also pursue other business interests or even [be part of] the arts scene — be it playing in a live band or being an artist. I think all these are very realistic opportunities that, if they come along, the young generation should really try their best to attempt [to take them] because you never know what lies ahead. A new opportunity might lead to many more doors opening for you in the future.
[If you look at] our current generation, there are a lot of singers that are also actors and business people that make investments as well. Nobody just does one job as a singer. They explore multiple roles — being an emcee, an actor, a performer, and also probably making investments as well. I think this is a very realistic situation and that the world is changing, and I would like to inspire and educate people to have a more open mind instead of just being restrictive. We all have different talents and we should embrace them.
Let's talk about your music. How would you describe your style?
Now, I'm still in a very experimental stage. I wouldn't commit to a certain genre yet. As a multihyphenate, right from the start, I had different jobs and different roles. I would like to explore different types of genres in my music. Previously, I did a ballad and a hip-hop track, and now I'm back to a pop ballad track. The next track that I'm going to do is an EDM pop track. Now, I think I'm at a stage where I want to explore more. I want to see the different colours that every genre has and be true to my nature as a multihyphenate. [In] my music, I hope to have enough diversity and enough colour [and] not just [stick to] only one genre.
"Now, I think I'm at a stage where I want to explore more. I want to see the different colours that every genre has and be true to my nature as a multihyphenate."
You released a collaborative single, titled 'Maybe Love', with MAMAMOO's Moonbyul in April this year. Tell us what it was like to work with such a familiar name from the K-pop scene. What did you learn while putting the song together with her?
I think it has been one of the highlights of my artist career so far. I mean, it has been a short journey (it began one year [or so] ago). Working with Moonbyul sunbaenim (senior) has been one of the highlights because we started as friends when she [participated] in my dance challenge for 'In My Pocket'. That was in July last year. Since then, we've remained in close contact, and I was fortunate to be able to enter RBW, my agency, which is also MAMAMOO's agency. When we were in the same agency, they gave us more opportunities to work [together], so we got many chances to meet. We were [also] able to train together and meet each other in the studio much more frequently.
At that time, I was preparing for my comeback track and I was thinking that this song would be more of a spring[-themed], happy song. Moonbyul had a very cool vibe to her rap, so I was thinking, "Why not? If we come together, I think the synergy will be great." So I humbly asked her whether this was a project she would be keen on working on. After all, at that point of time, I was still a very new artist and MAMAMOO was a very senior figure in the K-pop world. Despite all of the success she has achieved, Moonbyul has been very humble and very helpful towards me. She immediately agreed. There wasn't even a difficult conversation. Immediately, she hopped on [and] agreed to do this project. And I was very fortunate to be able to sit down with her in the studio and go through the song, the lyrics.
"Despite all of the success she has achieved, Moonbyul has been very humble and very helpful towards me. She immediately agreed. There wasn't even a difficult conversation. Immediately, she hopped on [and] agreed to do this project."
Very surprisingly, I think the rap lyrics really relate very well to the meaning of the song because there is a lake called Seokchon Hosu (Seokchon Lake) that she mentions in the rap. When she prepared the rap lyrics herself and we discussed them in the studio, she didn't even know that I was living right in front of the lake (my house was just next to the lake). It was really kind of a perfect coincidence that she would include the lake in the lyrics when we didn't discuss [this] beforehand. So I think The chemistry was right on point from the beginning. We both found it like, "Wow, this is such an amazing coincidence." From then on, the whole working process was very smooth because I think the vibe was just right on point.
This was my first Korean song, like "Korean" Korean song. Before that, all of my songs [had] mostly English lyrics. This song, 'Maybe Love', has a lot of Korean lyrics, so I had a lot of [opportunities] to practise my Korean diction [and] pronunciation and bring them to the next level. So to me, this song was very meaningful for all those reasons.
Now that you've added this collaboration to your discography, who else would you like to make music with?
There are actually a few very iconic K-pop idols and artists that I really respect that we are actually in discussions with for future projects. The most recent one that we're going to do will be released in July. That will be an EDM pop collaboration with a very renowned personality, I would say an OG-level personality. [There's] an embargo now, so I can't reveal the name, but please look forward to the upcoming release in July.
"At the end of the day, I want to inspire people to, number one, be happy. I hope they gain energy and positivity, especially when listening to [a song like] 'Maybe Love'."
Finally, what can your listeners expect from you in the future? What messages do you hope to share with them through your music?
At the end of the day, I want to inspire people to, number one, be happy. I hope they gain energy and positivity, especially when listening to [a song like] 'Maybe Love'. It has a very springy, happy vibe to it. The whole mood of the work that I'm going to do in the future will also be in the same vein. [The songs might be of] different genres, but I think the meaning and the direction will be consistent in the sense that I would like to inspire people to always have a positive attitude to be able to do whatever they want to do; to at least attempt and try what they want to do [and to] break new boundaries. I think that's very important — to be able to challenge themselves to break [their] limits.