Singaporean actor and singer Glenn Yong graces our October 2022 digital cover. Caught in the whirlwind that is the entertainment industry, Glenn muses on his love of fashion, his journey as a growing activist, and his career so far.
In the midst of filming his upcoming Chinese New Year flick (his last being Ah Girls Go Army, where he portrayed the stern yet magnetic Sergeant C K Chow), Glenn Yong spares some time to chat over the phone. The King of Musang King, the latest in Jack Neo’s compendium of comedies, is set to release in January and will feature durians front and centre. “It’s quite an ulu (“remote”) area,” Yong jokes about the town of Bentong, Pahang where he is calling from, and where the king of fruit grows wild.
While Yong’s love of cinema spans over a decade since he first watched Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, his dream of becoming an actor materialised about four years ago. “When I saw the way Leo could play so many different characters in the film — a policeman, a lawyer, a banker — I was in complete awe,” says Yong. “It made me realise that being an actor would allow you to experience so many things in life. That was when the interest really started for me.”
Yong made his acting debut with a supporting role in The Good Fight back in 2019 followed by more supporting roles across TV, but his big breakthrough came when he landed the leading part in prime-time series Live Your Dreams, which premiered in 2021. A year later, he would go on to take the role of Sergeant C K Chow.
On channelling the true spirit of his craft
“So far, I’ve only acted in two lead roles,” Yong says, with a modest laugh. “Both characters are really, really different — they are worlds apart, and the learning process as well as the challenges are also different.” In the TV drama Live Your Dreams, Yong portrays the charming pop idol Yi An — affable and soft-spoken, much like the actor himself. “The challenge was more in trying to enter Yi An’s ‘world’. I wasn’t a singer yet at the time, and I didn’t know how to dance. So, the tough part was actually gaining the skill sets I needed for the role, and then trying to understand the struggles he faced as a pop idol — all while doing my best to make it convincing.”
With Ah Girls Go Army, it was a total 180. Yong found himself walking in a different pair of shoes: one belonging to a sergeant. “Getting to know Sergeant C K Chow was a completely different experience than with Yi An,” says Yong. It is quite endearing to hear Yong refer to his characters as people he had to “get to know” — it certainly lends his acting technique a more sensitive touch. “Sergeant Chow was always fond of talking to large groups of people, which is not something that I do as Glenn. So, I’d say the biggest struggle for me with the role is how I can be firm and fierce, and to channel his characteristics.”
“As an artist, I have to find a purpose that goes beyond just ‘being famous’ or having a lot of people following me. It’s about what I do with the influence I have, and how I can give back to the world.”
(Glenn Yong sports a printed tee, drill shorts and Bandit shoulder bag by Coach.)
It is easy to understand what Yong’s Live Your Dreams role means to him. Recording the soundtrack for the show gave Yong a new perspective as an actor — as well as a newfound love for singing. “It was such a surreal feeling… it’s like I actually fell in love with music,” he expresses. “I mean, I had some experience in singing previously but nothing that serious, mostly it was just for fun. It was only last year when I really took it seriously. It was the first time I thought, ‘Hey, I might actually be able to do this.’”
Yong’s foray into the music scene post-Live Your Dreams met with acclaim from his long-standing fans. His first ever English single, Up Up was released just this year — which he also wrote himself — and is empowering in its own right, summing up his experience in the entertainment industry so far. He also cites K-pop band BTS as his biggest musical inspiration: “A lot of their songs gave me comfort on my bad days. From there, I realised that there’s power in music. If I can be the kind of musician and singer who creates uplifting and empowering music, it would mean a lot to me.”
On standing up for the causes he believes in
BTS is more than just Yong’s musical influence — the band’s involvement in social welfare also drives Yong’s own commitment to social change. “When I was young, my dream was to be an activist. So, I was looking to do something that would give me a platform or a ‘voice’, and to have influence so that I can stand up for causes I believe in,” says Yong. “What BTS is doing right now is kind of a dream of mine. They’re the global ambassadors for UNICEF, which is an organisation I really want to work with someday. What they’re doing with their status as an international star is what inspires me a lot. As an artist, I have to find a purpose that goes beyond just ‘being famous’ or having a lot of people following me. It’s about what I do with the influence I have, and how I can give back to the world.”
In May this year, Yong was appointed as the Goodwill Ambassador for Singapore Cancer Society to raise cancer awareness among the youth. His dedication to the cause stems from his childhood, where he had to come to terms with the gravity of the disease at a young age. “My grandfather had lung cancer, and he passed away when I was quite young — around four or five years old,” he shares. “Since then, I already knew just how detrimental cancer can be. And as I grew older, a few other people in my life who I was close to personally contracted cancer as well. I saw how tough it was for them to go through chemotherapy, the whole recovery process. It became something like part of my own life.”
“I realised that there’s power in music. If I can be the kind of musician and singer who creates uplifting and empowering music, it would mean a lot to me.”
(Glenn is wearing a shearling printed jacket by Coach.)
After performing for “Relay For Life 2022” at Singapore National Stadium, an event held by Singapore Cancer Society — and joining more of the organisation’s campaigns — becoming Goodwill Ambassador seemed only the natural next step for Yong. It’s clear to see how determined he is to educate the people around him in important matters. Despite being fairly new in the entertainment industry, it is refreshing to see such conscientiousness in Yong’s journey. His status as an artist is something he is constantly shaping, and his easy-going yet humble attitude only adds to his overall charm.
On the roots of his relationship with fashion
“I’ve always loved fashion,” Yong confesses. For the photo shoot with Lifestyle Asia Singapore, he donned pieces from Coach’s Autumn/Winter 2022 collection, with the latest Bandit bag as the centrepiece of his look for the digital cover. “But for the first two or three years of my career as an artist, I lacked confidence. I felt like I wasn’t ‘worthy’ enough to work with brands like Coach.”
Coach, as Yong expresses with clear admiration in his voice, holds a special place in his heart as one of the brands he worked with when he first dabbled in the fashion scene. From his first ever magazine cover to discovering his style, Yong regards Coach as the brand that gave him his “many first experiences” throughout his career.
Yong’s relationship with fashion is something that’s quite personal to him as well. “I’m a very visual person,” he says. “Clothing, hairstyles — basically everything that I wear outside, I think it affects me a lot because that’s how I gain an impression, visually. I view fashion as an extended version of myself. It says a lot about what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking about. To me, it’s a way to express myself.”
This is perhaps what cinched his Live Your Dreams role for him — Yong does love to dress up, and he finds that personal sense of style mirrors that of his character Yi An’s. Nowadays, he likes to dress down for the most part and add a touch of elegance to his outfit. Think a plain oversized tee with high-waisted pants, but finished with a pair of formal shoes to elevate the look. “My fashion sense changes according to different phases of my life. Recently I’m into ‘simple’ dressing. Plus, in Singapore it’s so hot, so it’s quite hard for me to wear layers. Especially if I’m going to be outdoors a lot.”
Between acting, music and fashion, Glenn Yong is all geared up to give it his all. His next goal is to be able to expand his career overseas. “Not just in Singapore or Southeast Asia, but hopefully maybe China or even Korea one day,” he adds. For his music career, he has recently been pondering on the direction he wants to take — whether that entails creating songs that will be a hit, or to focus on music that he feels comfortable with. “I’m going to trust my heart and create songs that ‘speak’ my heart, and people who love it will love it,” Yong ultimately decides. “I just hope to have a crowd that I can sing to and perform to and hopefully make an impact to as well.”
editor MARTIN TEO | interview PUTERI YASMIN SURAYA | photography JOEL LOW | assisted by EDDIE TEO | fashion direction & styling JOSIAH CHUA | creative production JASMINE HO & SEVEN OF HEARTS STUDIO | grooming ZOEL TEE & DIOR BEAUTY | hair stying CHRISTVIAN & GOLDWELL | styling assistant ALEXANDRIA CHEN