Singaporean lawyer-CEO David Yong makes K-pop debut, signs with Mamamoo’s agency
A Singaporean businessman with a K-pop dream? Sure, why not?
Evergreen Group Holdings chief executive David Yong was so serious about breaking into the industry, he braved the Covid-19 pandemic and moved to South Korea in May 2021 to pursue his music ambitions.
A year on, the 35-year-old timber scion and lawyer has been signed as the latest artiste under South Korean entertainment company Rainbowbridge World (RBW), the agency of hit K-pop girl group Mamamoo.
And the music video for his Korean hip-hop single In My Pocket – which features rapper Kid Milli and was co-produced by Jeon Ji-yoon, a former member of K-pop girl group 4Minute – has amassed more than 10 million views on YouTube since its release in July 2022.
Last December, he collaborated with South Korean R&B group 4Men on the track My Way, which was featured on the soundtrack of the drama series School 2021.
“I’m looking at releasing more music and making variety show appearances on Korean broadcasting networks as well. It would be a full schedule,” Yong tells The Straits Times over Zoom from Seoul. He took intensive lessons to learn the Korean language and currently shuttles between the two countries.
He adds: “I commit about three to four days a week now to vocal and dance lessons, which still gives me time left over in the week to attend my business meetings.”
Yong is aware that he is an older man entering a youth-centric industry where rookie idols can be 20 years younger than him.
He says with a laugh: “I’m not a guy in my early 20s, so I definitely have to take better care of myself. Thankfully, South Korea has great skincare and RBW is providing me training and taking care of my dietary intake too.”
But fashioning himself into an aspiring singer is just one small part of Yong’s grand plan.
Evergreen has its roots in a timber trading business founded by his father but has since expanded to include business interests in real estate, lifestyle and entertainment.
And its newest venture is a partnership with RBW to distribute its content across South-east Asia, co-produce artistes and set up training schools for K-pop wannabes in Singapore and South-east Asia.
The bachelor became interested in K-pop after his younger brother, who is 12 years his junior, asked to be taken to the Singapore concert of K-pop girl group Twice in 2017.
He says: “I’m not trying to be an idol, not looking to get super famous or compete with other K-pop artistes. My aim is to co-create with them and expand my network of partners. I want to know the good practices of K-pop so I can apply it across the region successfully.
“It’s hard to do entertainment from the outside. It helps to do it from the inside and understand it through the lens of an artiste, rather than just an entrepreneur, so you can efficiently communicate with the talents.”
He adds: “We hope to be a cultural bridge between South Korea and South-east Asia.”
While K-pop is already massively popular globally and mega-agencies like YG Entertainment hold auditions in South-east Asia to scout for new talents – such as K-pop girl group Blackpink’s Thai rapper Lisa – Yong still spots a gap in the market.
“Even when agencies hold auditions here, they have no real trusted partners in the region. A few trainees who get picked out are sent to South Korea with no prior training and they often experience culture shock,” he says.
“We want to provide them basic know-how here in our training schools locally before sending them off to South Korea.”
However, K-pop wannabes from Singapore have been met with derision.
A group of teenage girls who formed the group Beaunite in 2017 were cyber-bullied, while some criticised a segment of older women dancing to K-pop at the National Day Parade this year as “cringe”.
Yong is undeterred. “There will always be naysayers so I just take it with a pinch of salt and move forward knowing that my goal is bigger than myself.”
But will there be Singaporean parents willing to send their kids to K-pop training at a time when most other teenagers are busy with school and examinations?
Yong says: “Now that K-pop artistes are seeing good results globally and in the US, parents may shift to a different mindset and become more accepting of their children opting for non-conventional routes. We stand a good chance to have global stars come out of Singapore. It’ll take time but it is possible.”
His own parents felt “uncertain” about his venture into entertainment, however.
“They definitely thought it was a bold move back then, but they just told me not to get Covid-19 in Seoul,” he recalls.
“Now, they feel quite positive about it after seeing the fruits of my labour.”
Yong, who studied law at the University of Bristol in Britain and is the managing partner of boutique law firm YSL Legal, acknowledges that his life now as a CEO, lawyer and artiste is in part possible because of his privileged upbringing.
“It has helped me get a head start in whatever I do. It’s a good platform and helps to open doors, but it doesn’t mean that the journey was always smooth.
“It took time for my dad to trust me as a successor and there are people who say all my success is only because of my father’s legacy.
“But there is also hard work in expanding the business beyond timber to what it is today and keeping things sustainable in the long run.”