Q&A: Jay Park Spills the History of WON SOJU

Multi-hyphenate platinum recording artist Jay Park is surprising the public yet again — but this time, not with music. Creating a new spirits brand called WON SOJU, the K-Pop-alum-turned-entrepreneur is looking to shake up the scene. 

Developing his spirits from scratch, this newest venture helps Park do the unprecedented in Korea: tie an alcohol product directly to his own brand as a musician and record producer. 

Park first got his start in the entertainment industry in 2009 as the leader of the K-pop group 2PM but soon left the group and returned to his hometown of Seattle, Washington. There, he recollected himself and strategized his return to the limelight. Four years later, the musician managed to change the soundscape of hip-hop and R&B in South Korea through creating his own record label, AOMG. In 2017, after several years of growing success, he brought the South Korean and international music scenes together with the independent label H1GHER MUSIC. 

Within the same year, Park also focused on his own musical career, becoming the first Asian American artist to sign onto Jay-Z’s record label, ROCNATION. The following year, he released the American album “Ask About Me,”  featuring Rich The Kid, VIC MENSA, Gashi and 2 Chainz. 

Despite his many musical accolades, when Park returned to New York this year, it was clear that he was not just as an entertainer, but an entrepreneur. After creating a buzz for WON SOJU across the country with exclusive launch events in Seattle, Los Angeles and Atlanta, WON SOJU made its mark in New York City at Somewhere Nowhere (@swnwnyc) as it concluded its bi-coastal launch tour within the US. With that, it seemed that Park had officially added another notch to his belt. 

During his visit, Park performed three consecutive nights in Chelsea, Manhattan, dividing his time between Somewhere Nowhere and Mission Night Club — both prominently known venues within the city. Character Media was able to catch up with him on his last night in NYC before the event:

Character Media: I have a couple of questions, but before we even get into it, you actually shot a cover with us 11 years ago and I just wanted to show you … What was going through your head and where were you in your career when you were doing this?

Jay Park: This is like, what, 10 years ago? That’s still when I was kind of figuring out the industry and figuring out [myself] as an artist — who I wanted to work with, what my sound was, what my fans wanted to hear and what I wanted people to hear. It was trial and error; an experimental period of my career.

Jay Park on the January 2012 cover of KoreAm Journal.

CM: What inspired you to launch WON SOJU? You’re essentially stepping into a competitive landscape with large corporations. 

JP: What inspired me to do this was because, in the States, a lot of celebrities have their own brand of liquor, right? In Asia, there are not a lot of people that have that. [So when I] signed to Roc Nation and I released that “SOJU” song, I introduced a lot of new people to soju, and they were like, “Is this your soju?” and I was like, “No,” and they were like “You should start your own soju.”

That’s what inspired me. That was [in] 2018. It took four years to launch — to develop, to find the partners, to find the taste to launch, and it’s just been fun. I don’t look at it as if I’m trying to compete with [the large corporations]. Obviously, Jinro and Chum Churum have been around forever, so I’m not trying to compete with them. I just feel like everybody can have their own space and have their own target.

CM: What would you say is the objective for WON SOJU? Of course, it’s a business venture, so the bottom line aside, is there a  cultural angle you’re trying to hit?

JP: 100%. Jay Z has Ace of Spades and D’Usse and Diddy has Ciroc. But for Asian people, they don’t have a face to put to the liquor that they drink. I feel like it’s a good way to introduce a different side of Korean culture to different types of people. 

CM: Are there people from the entertainment industry who have done something like this whom you’ve tapped into for advice?

JP: In terms of Korea, Baek Jong-Won. But in terms of celebrities, not really. Because literally, I’m the first one. … It’s not like I can call Jay-Z and be like, “Yo, give me some advice.” I would love to have a conversation with him, but in terms of the States, it’s just been Transparent Arts and Far East Movement — people I’ve been kicking it with for a long time.

CM: As the face of the brand and business, do you think there’s an added pressure for you to behave a certain way?

JP: No, not really. It goes really well with my brand. And to be honest, it’s actually just a plus for both, because there’s not a lot of people in the K-pop space who can start their own liquor brand where it would make sense. It’s just been fun. Obviously it’s really expensive going on this promo tour and throwing all of these events, but I’m glad that I created something that people can all come to, have fun, take part and pride in.

CM: And this isn’t your first time creating your own venture. Back in 2013, you created your own label, AOMG. Are you taking any lessons that you learned from that label and applying them to this?

JP: Yes, 100%. That’s why in everything I do, I’m not afraid to start from zero. It’s not like I attached my name to a brand that already existed. We started from scratch — literally nothing — and we built [Won Soju.] That mentality of taking risks and not being afraid to go for it is helping me in every aspect of life.

CM: When you imagine WON SOJU being enjoyed by a group of friends, who and what are you envisioning? What’s the setting? What’s the vibe?

JP: Every WON SOJU party thus far has been a very diverse group of people of all races, all ethnicities and cultures. They enjoy it with cocktails, *chuckles*… But some people make the mistake — the people that don’t know; since the bottle is small, they pop it and drink it by the bottle and they get messed up.

CM: I mean you can still do that, right?

JP: You can still do that, but they’re [first] like, “Aw this is smooth,” and then [snaps] they get twisted. You can ask this guy right here [points to his cameraman]. But they’re enjoying it all in different ways.

This article will appear in Character Media’s Annual 2023 Issue. Read our 2022 issue here