Business

Executive of the Week: WK Entertainment CEO Walter Kolm

Walter Kolm and Maluma
Tes

Walter Kolm and Maluma

Kolm manages Maluma, who tops Billboard's new Global ex U.S. chart with "Hawai."

When Billboard debuted its new global charts this week, Maluma’s “Hawái” became the first-ever song to lead the brand new chart measuring songs outside the United States. It’s an outsized accomplishment that’s hard to overstate: “Hawái” is not only a Spanish-only track, but it’s performed without a featured act.

That the lead single from his new album, Papi Juancho would be a hit was never in doubt. Maluma, who has been signed since the beginning of his recording career to Sony Music Latin, is now a global superstar with a massive social media following and millions of streams. But he is, first and foremost, a Latin star who still sings mostly in Spanish -- which makes the global accomplishment that much more significant, and is why Maluma's manager Walter Kolm is Billboard's new executive of the week.

“Hawai,” a slow reggaetón breakup song, did extremely well in the Latin realm, debuting at No. 10 on Billboard’s U.S.-based Hot Latin Songs chart on Aug. 10, rising to No. 1 last week, where it still stands, and set a Spotify record for most streams in a 24-hour period in Mexico, with 2.2 million.

But “Hawai,” and Papi Juancho also benefitted from other planned and unplanned circumstances, says Kolm, who signed Maluma back in 2013 when he was a relatively-unknown 19-year-old and has been the main architect behind his success.

“We had the song and the artist. It’s not 'Hawai.' It’s Maluma/'Hawai,'” says Kolm, who has Maluma signed to his WK Entertainment and whose team -- which includes Miguel Lua and Clara Pablo -- also oversees Maluma’s bookings and sponsorship deals. The rise of "Hawai," Kolm says, was the result of meticulous planning and execution between Maluma himself, the WK team and Sony Latin, who have been strategizing the release since January.

But a real-life break up, a deactivated Instagram account and a couple of star soccer players also fueled interest. Kolm tells us how the song became the first-ever ruler of the ex-U.S. global chart.

What was the goal with “Hawai?”

Walter Kolm: When Juan Luis [Maluma’s real name] was choosing the repertoire, we always felt this was the first single because it represented the sonic and aesthetic concept of the album. Juan Luis came from making concept albums, like Pretty Boy, Dirty Boy, and here he returned to working with [his original production team] the Rude Boyz and returned to his roots. He wanted the album to have the look, that kind of Miami Vice aesthetic. And as far as the song goes, Juan Luis thought that everything he imagined in the video -- the look, the vintage car, the interruption of the wedding -- represented the aesthetic of the album and the tour.

The song and the album were delayed because of the pandemic. Once you decided to release Papi Juancho Aug. 24, what was the strategy?

The song was released four weeks before, and from the onset, it grew very fast and in a very organic manner. We also went to market with an entire line of “Hawai” themed merchandise. The concept was to sell “Hawai.” And exactly four weeks later, we planned to drop the album as a surprise. That’s what Juan Luis wanted to do. He wanted to directly tell his fans that he was dropping an album, instead of announcing it in a release.

But something happened in the interim, right?

It turns out that fans began to speculate that the song and the video, which are about a girl who dumps her boyfriend for someone else, was dedicated to Maluma’s ex-girlfriend, now dating Neymar [the Brazilian soccer star who plays for French team PSG]. When Neymar’s team got to the final of the Champion’s League, he and several of the players posted a video on social media where they’re singing “Hawai.” And that stoked fans’ interest even more. Then Bayern Munich beat PSG [in the final] and they also played the song on their social media. This was around Aug. 18 or 19. So it coincided with our plan.

Juan Luis said, "I’m going to shut down my Instagram, and then announce the album as a big surprise.” People went crazy. They were speculating he was hurt. He was a trending topic on Twitter. Then, at 11 p.m. the night before the album release, he turned on his Instagram and hosted an IG Live and said, “Ask me anything you want.” At one point, 300,000 people were simultaneously watching. And he answered all their questions. And by the way, the song has nothing to do with his ex-girlfriend. It’s just a song.

You had a strategy beyond that social media push, right?

The single continued to rise. First, because the album got good reviews, and that boosted the song. Maluma performed “Hawai” at the VMAs and he also performed a massive livestream concert presented by Michelob Ultra with great production values. And of course, this was a global priority for Sony. Juan Luis had sat down with all the streaming services months before and given them each exclusive content. Sony put up billboards in all the major cities around the world: London, Rome, Munich, Paris, among others. The idea was to put a face to the Maluma release, particularly because we had to cancel the tour that would have supported the album. All of that paved the path to No. 1.

Did you expect this song to do so well?

Yes. Because of the penetration Latin music is having in the charts overall. And fans wanted new music by Maluma, on his own. I think with this song we had the two main ingredients: The song and the artist. It’s not "Hawai." It’s Maluma/"Hawai." And beyond the song, people truly identified with the lyrics. It refers constantly to Instagram and how people use it. Especially that line, “All those things you post are really pretty/You post them for me to see them.” The entire marketing campaign for the song was executed on his social media. Instagram and TikTok were key.

To nominate the next executive of the week, email biz@billboard.com