By Jocelle Koh
Photos provided by SKR Presents
Malaysian singer-songwriter Evangeline Wong 王艷薇 is like no artist I’ve ever known. Ever-versatile in her experimentations with different music styles, citing a mix of early 2000s Mandopop, electronic music and alternative rock as her influences, Wong is a prolific and professional songwriter in her own right, with a keen sense of what she wants from her music. Personality wise, she is not someone who opens up easily, but once she does, her straight-talking ways will keep you roiling in fits of laughter, and be it with her or at her, she couldn’t care less. An artist whose music and personality often keeps you guessing and wanting more, how to fit ALL of her; in all her perfect, spiky, pure, ever-changing glory was the biggest challenge, but also one of my most fulfilling milestones as the creative director for the project.
Branding her as ‘wild’ or ‘limitless’, and fleshing out this positioning to tell her story and that of her critically-acclaimed debut album ‘Wilder 框不住的艷薇’, the album went on to be nominated for the 2019 Golden Melody Awards, bringing to fruition all the hard work of the SKR team, and spreading Evangeline’s music to wider audiences. Thus, there is no one better to join me in advocating for the benefits for a well-thought artist branding and positioning strategy than this spunky 26 year-old who continues to feel the importance of positioning even two years into the official launch of her artist career.
We sat down to interview her for the second episode of our ‘Level Up’ podcast, illustrating from an artist’s point of view the challenges of creating an artist positioning strategy, and the long-lasting benefits of getting it right.
What was your initial understanding of ‘Artist Positioning’?
Actually I just thought about my own characteristics, like maybe the things I like, how I’m very imaginative and expressive, and innocent and cute. I wanted to share that I came to Taiwan to make music because I have been listening to Taiwanese music since I was little, it was more about my experiences as a youth that I remembered most clearly. So at first when you guys were discussing positioning, that’s why I just gave you these. But when I understood what positioning was, it was actually quite scary as it seemed like quite a serious topic.
In the initial stages of discussion, did you feel positioning was important at all?
I think it’s very important. Even though it made me scared to discuss this, it did help me to get to know myself better. Because although I have all these building blocks, it’s hard for me to express why I came here, it’s hard for me to talk about these things in straightforward terms that other people will understand. So discussing this with Jocelle helped me to realise that I want to write Taiwanese pop songs, but through my perspective as a Malaysian artist as a form of homage to Taiwan pop. And when I came to Taiwan and met all these teachers who created these songs I loved, the fact that I was very touched by this is evidence that I’m still the person I was when I started with this passion. I didn’t realise that all these things were hidden in those ‘blocks’, this was something I could never have imagined. So at that time, when the album concept and my positioning was right and we launched the album, I felt that every single one of the points I wanted to express were summarised and that this life was not wasted (laughs). But it was in fact a very moving experience, really.
When we were discussing your direction and positioning, did you feel anything about it was challenging for you personally?
At the beginning I wasn’t quite sure how to answer those questions especially from members of the media, but I think this is something that all artists face. You shouldn’t be scared, once you get past the first barrier you’re home free. Because your first album should really have your personal touch and be very ‘you’, then when you start working on other things and finding new directions, you’ll apply your initial understandings to these new things. Then you’ll realise that all those questions they asked you the first round are more or less the same (laughs).
At first we talked about your branding, your story and how we can organise this into your positioning. Was this part of it tough for you at all?
Actually it all went pretty smoothly. The part that kind of was perplexing for me was that there’s a certain way that I have to maintain my appearance, when I was in my room doing my music, I wouldn’t care about these things more surface-level things at all. But I think it all works together.
I think on one level, people might think artists focusing on appearances are superficial, but from my perspective I don’t think it necessarily is. It just allows you to be more accessible to your audience.
Yes I used to think like this, my music is already great, I can express myself solely through this, why do I need to care about my appearance? Initially this was my thought. But then I realised it all works together. If you maintain your appearance, you’ll have more self-confidence when you talk about your music, people are more willing to listen and to share, so overall I think the effect is synergistic. You need to stop thinking about this from a perspective of an artist and go back to being the perspective of a listener.
If you were an indie artist and didn’t know how to start finding your positioning and direction. What advice would you give to an artist like this trying to get a start?
Hm, find Jocelle. (Laughs)… If I really didn’t have Jocelle, if I didn’t have a company, I would think about my genre and musical style. I think I would create the album concept based on the musical style. Because if I were to really get to that point, I’m sure I wouldn’t be young anymore. Like I don’t think I would be waiting for the radio to play my voice … I think I would be thinking about how the music can be engaging with mandarin speaking populations or at least Southeast Asian Mandarin speaking populations while expressing how these different cultures and experiences give me creative strength. I think the album direction would be based on musical style.
In fact, starting from the music is the most important, because it is the most core concept.
You will realise that every piece of music has an energy. If you didn’t have that same energy, you wouldn’t create that music. You can’t run from it, your music will always come back to what you want to express even if you’re doing it subconsciously.
You’ve been using this positioning for two years. Looking back, was this positioning was helpful? How?
Yes. Because I’m very honest, so if I accept something, I will want to let it continue to be more intimately me. If at 24 years old, my positioning was that I was limitless or without boundaries, then as a 26 year-old the question I’m asking myself is: ‘Do you know what limitless means at all?’ Because now I feel the limits I’m talking about are referring to a more international perspective and realising I need to find some other genres and cultures to once again use my Malaysian culture to create something different… I’m asking myself how can I play with this positioning and these limits.This has allowed me to really understand this theme, it’s not necessarily just about being scared of what others think. Because you can’t talk about this forever. (This positioning) will help me when I’m doing anything and everything. It will remind me. Even when I’m writing a song I will think about it. I want to do things my way, not copy others. How can I go back to my most core positioning and direction? I think this is great, and really valuable.
To every artist, positioning or branding is not merely a commercial endeavour that seeks to bound one in dreary homework and restrict one’s creativity. No, it is much more than that. To me and to Evangeline, it is a compass for your journey as an artist. It will be your north star when no end is in sight, and help you to methodically dissect every stage of your creative process; creating a new level of self-awareness that will benefit your career as an artist. Still not convinced? Go ahead and hear the full interview with Evangeline and let us know what you think then. We hope we’ve changed some minds!
Listen to Evangeline’s interview on the Level Up podcast
Listen on Apple Podcasts or KKBOX
Follow Evangeline on Instagram or Facebook for more wacky, weird updates. Also find out more about the Level Up podcast here, and support what we do (and get valuable worksheets) by subscribing to our Patreon here.