It can take years for actors to be discovered, or before they land a leading role, but for Singaporean actor and singer Glenn Yong, it seems to be the opposite.
After debuting in The Good Fight in 2019, he landed a leading role in the 2021 prime-time drama series, Live Your Dreams as a charming blue-haired pop idol called Yi An, telling the story of zealous hopefuls in pursuit of their music career. “The opportunity to play Yi An was very surreal, and it was special for me because it kickstarted my music career in real life,” he says.
A month later, he was cast in the fifth (and sixth) edition of Jack Neo’s well-loved military movie franchise, Ah Girls Go Army, cementing his title as the stern but charismatic Sergeant Chow. Yong confesses that he was confused when he was asked to audition for it, since the movie was supposed to centre around women. Yet, when he was eventually given the role, it was unexpected for two reasons. “I thought I had messed up really badly” he elaborates, citing that he was stopped by Neo after he was done with the second of three scenes he prepared for the audition. That, plus the fact that Sergeant Chow wasn’t the role that he auditioned for made it doubly surprising for him. “The rest was history. Sergeant Chow became an iconic part of the journey.”
With leading roles both on the big and small screens in the bag, one is almost inclined to forget that his rocky start in showbiz included odd jobs like waiting on celebrity friends at events. “If you view it in the lens of my career as an actor, I would say it’s been a great run so far and I’m thankful to be doing what I do today. It’s been a long way coming, but I believe the best is yet to come and I’m still going to keep working hard.”
I remember this quote by William Carey which stuck with me in my youth: “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
But the actor isn’t resting on his laurels. Just earlier this year, he released his first English single Up Up — full music video and all — that summarises his experiences in the industry so far. A hip-hop anthem written to encourage and empower people to keep moving up despite the odds, Yong tapped on his personal challenges when he penned the lyrics to the piece. “(More often than not) you’ll feel very alone in this journey of climbing to the top, chasing after your dreams. Many people won’t understand the sacrifices you have to make. You’ll have to say no to things that will derail you from your destination, and there are (bound to be) failures in between that makes you feel like giving up from time to time.”
A closer look at the lyrics and you’ll find that it’s more of a stance aimed towards those (haters, if you will) who get in the way of success, with verses like Say I’m this and that/Now I’m dissing back/Said you got my back/But where you all be at. When probed to elaborate, he laments that one misconception people have about him is that he’s difficult to work with. “It’s strange because most people who say that about me are people whom I’ve never worked with before, so I don’t know why they’re saying those things. People whom I’ve worked with before never had that issue with me, so sometimes when I hear this I just laugh because it can be quite absurd.”
We’re not sure if we count for much, but between us and a lad who gives 90-degree bows to live audiences and even crew members after shoots, we have nothing but praise for the easy-going and humble artiste.
His life has been operating at bullet-train speed. Our cover, for instance, was a speedy four-hour affair on a Sunday, ending just 30 minutes before his next class. In between shots, he admits that he doesn’t get that much rest these days: “After reading devotionals to prepare myself for the day and a workout session, I’m usually out for shoots and meetings till midnight.” As exhausting as that sounds, that isn’t all. “I then go for a night run, shower, settle some work, write songs, and read before bed.”
Indeed, making the most of the day appears to be the norm for the Interstellar fan. The film’s overarching theme on the relativity of time, after all, reflects in the 25-year-old artiste’s life: time is subjective and one’s reference perception of it may shift with our experiences, but one thing that doesn’t change is that we all move forward through it.
“During the busy season I don’t have the time to decompress so I just got to grit my teeth and go through it until I can find my next off day. When I do have an off day, however, I’ll try to stay at home — since I seldom have time to stay home — play basketball or catch up on some shows online.”
It’s clear that he works hard for his craft, but one has to agree that it takes a certain amount of luck for the universe to align itself for opportunities. For Yong, however, he attributes a large part of his popularity to his fans, affectionally named Hang Bao Bao. Apart from communicating with his fans regularly on his social media pages, there’s also an exclusive Telegram channel that offers a sneak peek into his life; his recent personal snowboarding trip to New Zealand, for instance, saw him regularly updating them with video messages on what he’s been up to, his first business class flight experience and so on.
“They are the most supportive and lovable bunch of people and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without them. They give me so much strength and motivation to keep working harder and being better, and I love every single interaction I have with them. Everything I do nowadays, I would think if they would like it, it’ll encourage or add value to their life. So yeah, we have a very special bond together,” Yong affirms.
“Another group of very important people is my personal friends and friends from the media industry. They’ve supported me through thick and thin, and many of them have given me valuable advice — I wouldn’t be where I am without them. For this, I am truly thankful to them.”
Just as actors learn where to stand, what to say and how to express their characters, most people — in reality — play several different roles depending on their environment and the company they’re in. For many, it’s hard enough to become the person the world wants us to be in public space, as that doesn’t necessarily align with who we are when we’re alone. For a celebrity like Yong, it’s only logical that the pressure can multiply. “I signed up for this so I just gotta deal with it. But this job also comes with a lot of perks so I think you just have to choose to see things in a positive light rather than focus on the negative.”
“(To me) authenticity means being completely honest and true to yourself.”
Similarly, it’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of fame with what seems to be a springboard to popularity. Yet, one quote that marks Yong’s biography on Instagram suggests otherwise. “‘Head in the clouds feet on the ground,’ that line speaks a lot about who I am as a person. I’m a dreamer with many dreams in life that I want to achieve. Having that in my bio reminds me that no matter what I should never grow jaded and lose that idealism in life, and also to remind myself that I’ve got to always be on the ground with the people too while I dream big. Most of my close friends are not in the media industry and they’re super low-key people, so they’ll help keep me grounded and keep life simpler.”
Before Yong had the opportunity to become an actor, a different career path was on the cards — he used to dream about traveling the world as a tour guide like his father. When the opportunity to become an actor rose, however, he took it by the horns and hasn’t looked back since. “Honestly at this point of my life I can’t imagine myself doing anything else other than being an artiste who’s acting and singing,” he says.
The personality comes across as someone who’s on the right path to having it all: a TV and movie actor, an entertainer, and a singer on the rise, he’s been taking over just about every form of content these days. Even so, Yong aims to use his platform and craft as an avenue for good. You don’t have to take it from us, but we’ve spotted him advocating for organisations like Make-A-Wish and sharing a letter between himself and his sponsored child in the Philippines too. “My dream since I was young is to be an Activist, fighting for a cause that I believe in and being a voice to the powerless. So when the prospects of being an actor came into the picture, I thought I could use acting as a way to grow my platform and influence so that I can have the platform to be an activist. I have to always remind myself that it isn’t about the fame or success, but it’s what you’re going to do with what you have right now that matters.”
“I guess moving forward, it’s more about finding significance in the things I do rather than just chasing after success. Naked we come naked we go, the only thing we can leave behind is our impact on this world and the lives of others right?”
Photography by Joel Low
Fashion Direction and Styling by Josiah Chua
Creative Production by Jasmine Ho / Seven of Hearts Studio
Grooming by Zoel Tee using Dior Beauty
Hair by Christvian using Goldwell
Photography Assistant, Eddie Teo
Styling Assistant, Alexandria Chen
Videography by Harpi Sim