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[Herald Interview] Global talent can expand K-pop’s reach, entrepreneur says

Nov. 22, 2022 - 17:37 By Choi Si-young
David Yong, chief executive of Evergreen Group Holdings. (EGH)

With the global success of BTS reaching new heights, there are some who think this might be a high-water mark for K-pop.

But a Singaporean entrepreneur who has himself debuted as a singer in South Korea is more optimistic, saying embracing global talent is one way to expand K-pop’s reach.

“As K-pop is widely loved globally, it would be to its advantage to be even more globally inclusive to talents worldwide,” David Yong, chief executive of Evergreen Group Holdings, said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

The Singapore-based company runs businesses from timber processing to real estate and financial services. But now it wants to enter the world of K-pop.

“I think that as K-pop has global appeal, I would like to see more of the K-pop artists collaborate internationally with different international artists, which will expand their reach even further,” he said.

The 35-year-old leader -- also the first Singaporean to release a Korean album after signing with local label RBW -- said expanding the talent pool could start from Southeast Asia, where K-pop has already become part of everyday life.

According to Yong, Evergreen plans to launch “a series of projects” involving offering help to Southeast Asians seeking to audition for Korean labels, setting up K-pop training centers and holding K-pop music festivals across the region.

Efforts to promote not only Korea pop culture there, but Southeast Asian talents to Korea will be made, Yong said, adding that this new, more globalized K-pop will not be short-lived, because his company will bankroll programs needed to help a “two-way exchange” take root.

The highlight of the initiative, Yong noted, will be what he calls the “K-content entertainment fund,” worth at least $50 million. The bigger Korean pop culture including music and drama is expected to benefit from the investment.

Hit dramas “Squid Game” and “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” the latest Korean hit on Netflix, are some of the “proven” cases that had convinced him to make the decision, according to Yong.

But the entrepreneur acknowledged the outlook was not all rosy, since the lingering “cultural and business operational differences” should be addressed to make his plans work.

Difficulties “finding trusted partners” or agents that will bridge the two regions -- Korea and Southeast Asia -- are still the biggest hurdle, Yong said, describing the “language barrier” as the pressing issue.

English is still not the common language and Yong himself had to learn Korean on his own to work with Korean artists and producers for his Korea debut. Months spent learning the language and culture at the same time was “intense work,” Yong recalled.

“I see Evergreen and myself as one of the pioneers in building this bridge,” Yong said. The young Evergreen CEO likened taking on challenges head-on to the way he had grown his family-run timber business to a multinational investment company.

“To me the diversification is key. Business landscapes and situations change constantly. We need to have the foresight and ability to react quickly to changes.”