We catch up with CEO Leonard Lim on upcoming plans and Southeast Asia’s potential
Whether it’s finally finding your tribe with the help of K-pop or meeting like-minded individuals after bonding over Japan-produced artists, entertainment has always connected people worldwide. And it’s no secret that Southeast Asian talent has the same effect, with Thailand even ushering in the modern BL and GL shows many tune in to. In the Philippines, our love for music and the arts birthed OPM, P-pop and award-winning actors that continue to raise our flags high. Nonetheless, WILD Entertainment Group CEO Leonard Lim still sees that our region has more untapped talent that the world needs to see.
After setting up WILD in Seoul in 2020, Leonard and his team moved the headquarters to Singapore in 2022. Since then, the agency has signed Korean-American rapper Junoflo and former CLC members Sorn and Seungyeon. Meanwhile, content creators such as Richard Juan, The Hammington Family and vlogger twins Q2HAN also chose WILD Entertainment to represent them. Apart from the talent side of the business, WILD also dabbles in media production and marketing.
But for the remainder of 2023, the agency will focus on establishing bases in Malaysia and the Philippines. The latter has already been activated; Leonard accompanied Sorn in visiting the country to promote Nirvana Girl. “We were thinking, ‘This is actually an amazing space, and there's a lot of talented people that we'd like to work with,’” he shares in an exclusive interview with Wonder. “The idea is to have a lot of my artists and the artists that I work with outside of our company come to the Philippines to collaborate with your talents.”
WILD Entertainment’s CEO, Leonard Lim
Why our region in particular? Leonard Lim points to Southeast Asia’s overpouring support for K-pop in the past years, a realization that came during his stay in South Korea for the past five years. But, apart from having the most passionate crowds of fans, he also recognizes something else about us. “I realized there's a lot of talented people from Southeast Asia that are not getting the same type of exposure and global recognition as K-pop,” he explains. “And that's because of the K-pop culture generated in the last 20 years.” With a global audience becoming more open-minded to Asian music, he thinks, “Southeast Asia is the next big market that people will start to promote.”
The big idea or chain of serendipitous events that made WILD what it is today starts with Leonard’s time in South Korea. Much of his community and circle of friends are English-speaking artists in the entertainment industry. With experience working with modeling, acting and social media agencies, Leonard assisted companies and artists for many overseas opportunities, including the United States and Southeast Asia. “Through my personal relationships, I was able to sign a couple of these artists. I didn't want to sign them directly under my name, Leonard, so I started this agency, WILD,” he recalls. Well, as they say, the rest is history. “At the core, entertainment and music are so much fun to be in. We don't want to take out the joy in being in this industry,” he emphasizes. “So we just try hard to put out things and learn each time.”
Up ahead, we get to know what’s next with WILD Entertainment.
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Wonder: What were your learnings from living and establishing the company in South Korea that you’re bringing into the rest of WILD’s future bases?
Leonard Lim: I like the branding and marketing style of K-pop—that's just one of a kind. But the treatment of our artists is not idol-type. It's hybrid in the sense that—a couple of my artists are from K-pop—we still give them the same lifestyle as an idol. But at the same time, we take the western route, where it's more of a partnership. We give them the creative outlet to use their skills and talents to put out music that they enjoy, and feel true to themselves. So my relationship with my artists and my team is that it's a partnership. We sit down together and try to plan for something that will make both of us happy.
W: So do you think this equal “partnership” structure sets WILD Entertainment apart?
LL: Yeah. What I like is for our artists to take true ownership of the work that they put out there, and it's our job to give them the resources, the assistance and all the help they need to put out something that they're proud of and something that we're proud of, too. So you'll see that every artist [and] every person that's part of my company is a true representation of my brand to begin with. So I don't have to really worry too much about whether they are going to make something or are they going to behave in a way that's going to be completely the opposite of what I believe in.
W: WILD has a diverse roster of celebrities, artists and creators. From former K-pop stars, Singaporean artists and even creators of different ethnicities based in different parts of the region. What do you look for in recruiting talents?
LL: Originally, it was just working with a lot of my friends because the trust and the relationship are already there. Moving forward, I like to work with talented, hardworking artists that exactly know what they want in their careers. When we sit down, we can have a true conversation about how I can help you do that or whether it is best for them, and then we work from there. But there's no secret recipe for the perfect artist anymore—there are so many different types of artists that are completely amazing.
But what I do like about the modern-day music market is that the best ones are those changing the game, changing the culture of the place that they're from. What I mean by that: K-pop did that already. And then, slowly, there will be a solo artist from Singapore that makes it very big. Malaysia has Yuna, who's also a game-changer. She broke out! And I really like that. So, that's really the exciting part for me. I want to find more artists that will follow suit or break through in a region that hasn't yet.
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W: What are the big goals you have for WILD in 2023?
LL: I want to do live events, to be honest. I would love to have a big concert that brings many regional artists together; that's the first thing. The second thing, we're kind of working on this already, but we're going to start a collaborative album where it's artists from the Philippines and artists outside of the [countries] collaborating to make an EP and LP together to showcase a big collaborative album.
W: So this year means more expansion plans in Southeast Asia?
LL: Yeah, we want our presence to be felt in Southeast Asia. My goal is to be a trusted entertainment brand. I say the word “trusted” because trust is very important to our artists. So we want to be a trusted entertainment brand that people are happy to work with. If we want to collaborate with them, they don't have any doubts about it because they'll say “I know this brand. They're a company that's good to work with.”
W: Lastly, where do you see WILD Entertainment ten years from now?
LL: I want WILD to be the first-in-mind in entertainment in the Southeast Asian region. So in Korea, you have big agencies like HYBE, JYP, SM, YG and CUBE. In Southeast Asia, when people want to think of anything within Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, I want them to think, “There's WILD out there.” We’ll slowly build towards that. That's a goal. Sometimes it's hard to continue working very hard in entertainment because there are so many good companies and good artists that every day is a competition and a struggle sometimes. But we want to be the number one entertainment brand in the region.
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On the horizon, Leonard hopes to still focus on the roster that currently makes up WILD Entertainment Group. Part of this involves collaborating with Filipino talents that's definitely worth looking forward to. (Trust us on this!) It’s safe to say that they’re on the right track.
Photos WILD Entertainment
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver