Most artists hastened to postpone their big album releases when Covid-19 struck, fearing they’d risk losing chunks of their audience as global attention focused elsewhere. But Dua Lipa forged on. As a result, her album Future Nostalgia became known as a beacon of the quarantine era in late March — its bubbly tracks giving music fans some much-needed cheer.
“How can we pause right now?” Wendy Ong, who manages Dua with the TaP management team as well as fellow pop superstars Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding, recalls thinking. “There’s so much happening in the world.”
Though her team had many conversations about moving the release, Ong, the president of management and record company TaP Music, decided the singer should go against the grain and “pivot very quickly” — and Dua also liked the idea of Future Nostalgia becoming “the album of quarantine.” So Ong had the artist bombard social media with throwback posts on the theme of nostalgia and invite TikTok users to help choreograph her music video for the new single “Levitating.” Dua also co-hosted a virtual prom on iHeartRadio stations and performed from home on James Corden’s and Jimmy Fallon’s late-night shows.
“Once the album came out, the wheels kept turning — I love giving a lot of credit to Dua on this,” Ong says. “She’s the master of her domain. She wanted to do this. She wanted to continue and expand on her narrative and this narrative of Future Nostalgia being the album of quarantine.”
Ong’s rise in the music business isn’t typical. She forwent attending college and moved to the U.S. from Singapore looking to enter the business. She has since become a seasoned music-marketing veteran who held posts at Arista Records, Interscope, and Roc Nation before joining TaP in 2018. She was promoted to president in October 2019, working closely with founders Ben Mawson and Ed Millett to lead a “ragtag team of experts with intense collaborative spirit,” as she calls it.
“I’m not one of the most confident people in the world, but I am really good with just looking around, assessing the environment,” Ong says of her approach to leadership. Ong got her first job in the U.S. music industry by knocking on doors until she found herself in a room with Clive Davis. “Two weeks after that, I was in Paris with Diddy,” she says. “I had no idea what was going on, but it’s like what they say, right? If you act like you know what’s going on, sooner or later it all starts to make sense and sink in.”
As Ong and TaP continue exploring new ways to market their artists without live shows, Ong’s grown more bullish on livestreaming — helping orchestrate paid performances for Goulding and fellow TaP client Dermot Kennedy, who played a pay-per-view livestream from the Natural History Museum in London. She said she expects to help push out several more livestreams this year.
Still, TaP has been selective about those shows to ensure they offer something new rather than contribute to the overwhelming amount of streaming content that’s come about in recent months.
Ong and her team also want to explore how to break out their more-developing artists without touring — a significantly more difficult task, since live shows are one of the most reliable means of developing fan relationships. “How do we go about breaking new artists, that’s the question we should all be asking ourselves,” Ong says. “It’s restrictive the way things are being done right now — we’re relying on so few social media platforms, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily the most talented artists or best music that’s coming out of what’s going viral online.”