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On Aug. 18, a Puck News report by entertainment lawyer and former Hollywood Reporter editor Matthew Belloni claimed that Justin Bieber and his famous manager, Scooter Braun, were parting ways after 15 years. The news quickly set the internet into a frenzy, but representatives for both Bieber and Braun just as quickly denied the report, with a source telling ET, “Justin and Scooter are still working together. Justin is not taking meetings to look for new management. The two recently worked on something together.”
Although reps for Braun and Bieber have refuted rumors that the singer is looking for new management, a source close to the situation tells Yahoo Entertainment “there is some truth” to the Puck News report, which claimed that Bieber and Braun are “kinda done” and haven’t spoken in months. “Their relationship is definitely strained,” says Yahoo’s music insider. “They may not be parting ways right now, but Justin’s exit is around the corner.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, Billboard confirmed that Braun’s other two most high-profile clients, Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande, have both split with Scooter Braun Projects. Lovato had been with Braun since 2019, while Grande had been represented by him for a decade — aside from a few months in 2016 when she left, reportedly because she was displeased with Braun’s meddling in her personal life. Grande’s second departure comes right before the 10th anniversary of her debut album, Yours Truly, which will be commemorated with a week-long celebration starting Aug. 25.
Reggaeton superstar J Balvin also left SB Projects in May to sign with Roc Nation for management, and the Hollywood Reporter just revealed that Broadway star Idina Menzel, who released her new disco album Drama Queen last week, quietly exited the firm in January. Now fans and industry pundits alike are wondering if Bieber, Braun’s first and longest-running client, will indeed be next — and if Braun’s career can survive what now appears to be a mass exodus of A-list artists from his roster.
“He’s imploding. It’s a different world since the pandemic. You just can’t be an asshole like that anymore,” one source told Variety, while another Variety source claimed that Bieber and Grande are not leaving SB Projects, and that Braun is just stepping back to focus on his role as the CEO of HYBE America. In April 2021, the South Korean multinational entertainment company HYBE (formerly Big Hit Entertainment), label home to superstar K-pop group BTS, merged with Ithaca Holdings, Braun’s holding company that includes Scooter Braun Projects. The deal was reported to be valued at more than $1 billion. “He’s getting out of management — he has been for years. That’s the real story,” said Variety’s source.
But regardless of what happens next for Braun, or for Bieber, there is no denying that their joint ascendance has been one of the most pioneering artist/manager partnerships in pop history.
Bieber and Braun changed the pop marketing game
It was Scooter Braun who discovered the young Justin Bieber on YouTube and helped him become the first, and still biggest, music star to emerge from that then-nascent video-sharing platform. Bieber probably wouldn’t be the star is he today if Braun, a young former So So Def Recordings marketing executive, hadn’t logged on to YouTube in 2008 and accidentally clicked on one of Bieber’s videos while searching for another artist. And Bieber’s unprecedented success undoubtedly allowed Braun to build a brand of his own.
Braun was nearly broke when he discovered Bieber, but following Bieber’s unprecedented success, he signed other YouTube sensations like PSY, Tori Kelly, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lil Dicky, Asher Roth, and Todrick Hall. As of this writing, Scooter Braun Projects’ other major clients still appear to include Hilary Duff, Quavo, Kelly Rowland, the Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, Dan + Shay, and supermodel Ashley Graham, according to the company’s website (although Lovato, Grande, Menzel, and Balvin are all still listed on the site’s roster at the moment). The Kid Laroi left SB Projects in 2021 after just three months due to what Billboard described as “significant problems” with Braun’s lack of involvement in the Australian rapper’s career, but he re-signed with the firm in May 2022.
Bieber was YouTube’s first real pop idol
In 2007 — long before artists were regularly discovered on TikTok, Instagram, or SoundCloud, and when YouTube was just two years old itself — Justin Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette, uploaded a video of her son performing Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” at a local singing competition. A year later, Bieber had still only amassed a modest 70,000 views for all of his YouTube uploads combined, but Braun was impressed by what he stumbled upon and was convinced that Bieber had superstar potential. He tracked Bieber down in Stratford, Ontario, Canada — contacting Bieber’s school and asking them to put him in touch with Mallette — then invited the talented boy to Atlanta to record some demos. Bieber was 13 years old at the time; Braun was 27.
Bieber soon signed to the Raymond Braun Media Group, a venture founded by Braun and R&B star Usher (who’d also become of fan of Bieber through YouTube). RBMG eventually brokered a record deal with Island Def Jam, but that was no easy feat, because major labels were not convinced that a YouTube artist could transition to the traditional pop formats of radio and MTV. “The obstacles were that people didn’t want to sign him because he didn’t have a Disney or Nickelodeon show, and because no one had ever broken through YouTube,” Braun told Forbes in 2011. “There was no validity and no proven track record. The only ways minors have broken over the past years was through having their own Disney or Nickelodeon show and every label told me that unless I had a TV show attached to one of those networks, they were not interested whatsoever.”
Two years after Braun convinced Island Def Jam’s L.A. Reid to take a chance on Bieber, Bieber’s breakout hit “Baby” became one of the best-selling singles ever in America, and was actually YouTube’s most-watched video for two years straight. (It was still the 39th most-viewed video on YouTube as of February 2023.) The teen went on to become one of the most successful recording artists of all time, with more than 150 million in global record sales. At one point he was so popular that his posts accounted for 3% of all traffic on another burgeoning online platform, known then as Twitter. “All the statistics pointed at the internet, and kids are spending more time on the internet as opposed to TV and radio; the mainstream didn’t realize the impact [of online viewing] because there wasn’t validity till Justin became big,” Braun told Forbes.
Among Bieber’s many historic achievements are being the youngest solo male act to top the Billboard 200 in 47 years with his debut album, My World 2.0; the first male artist to debut at No. 1 with a holiday album, 2011’s Under the Mistletoe; the first artist to have five U.S. No. 1 albums by age 18; the youngest solo male artist to spend 200 cumulative weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100; and the youngest solo act to have eight No. 1 albums in the U.S., beating Elvis Presley’s long-held chart record. He has also won two Grammys, 26 Billboard Music Awards, 18 American Music Awards, six MTV Video Music Awards, and 22 MTV Europe Music Awards, among many other accolades. Time named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2011, and he made Forbes’s ranking of the 10 most powerful celebrities in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Braun was listed as one of the music business’s top “30 Under 30” power-players in 2009.
Then the backlash came, Swift-ly
Although Braun was always well-known among diehard Beliebers, he made international headlines in 2019 when he drew the wrath of another ardent fan group, the Swifties. The music mogul had purchased Taylor Swift’s former label, Big Machine Records, through Ithaca Holdings for $330 million — which meant he now owned the rights to her Big Machine albums Taylor Swift, Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989, and Reputation. In a lengthy social media post, Swift called the business deal a “betrayal” and her “worst case scenario.” Swift, who feared her “musical legacy [was] about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it,” has since released three re-recorded “Taylor’s Version” albums — Fearless, Red, and Speak Now— with 1989 (Taylor’s Version) set to come out Oct. 27.
Braun had managed the artist then known as Kanye West when Ye and Swift publicly feuded over the rapper’s sexual references to Swift in the controversial track “Famous” and its accompanying NSFW music video. Swift wrote in 2019: “I learned about Scooter Braun’s purchase of my masters as it was announced to the world. All I could think about was the incessant, manipulative bullying I’ve received at his hands for years. Like when Kim Kardashian orchestrated an illegally recorded snippet of a phone call to be leaked and then Scooter got his two clients [Ye and Bieber] together to bully me online about it. Or when his client, Kanye West, organized a revenge porn music video which strips my body naked. … Any time [Big Machine Records founder] Scott Borchetta has heard the words ‘Scooter Braun’ escape my lips, it was when I was either crying or trying not to.”
Bieber, who at the time made light of the Ye/Swift/Braun feud in his Instagram Stories, later apologized for that “distasteful and insensitive” joke, but still defended Braun and in fact counter-accused Swift of bullying, posting on Instagram: “Scooter has had your back since the days you graciously let me open up for you! As the years have passed we haven’t crossed paths and gotten to communicate our differences, hurts or frustrations. So for you to take it to social media and get people to hate on Scooter isn’t fair. … I usually don’t rebuttal things like this but when you try and deface someone I love’s character that’s crossing a line.”
Braun’s reputation never recovered from the Swift debacle, and many fans on social media now seem delighted to witness his empire possibly crumbling. Some have brought up Swift’s Midnights tracks “Karma” and “Vigilante Shit,” which are believed to be about Braun, in reaction to the bombshell Lovato/Grande news. One observant fan tweeted that Braun is an investor in the Esports company 100 Thieves, and that in “Karma,” Swift sings, “Spiderboy, king of thieves/Weave your little webs of opacity/My pennies made your crown.” Fans of course took to X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, to rally for Bieber’s SB Projects exit, and Tori Kelly and Carly Rae Jepsen’s names also trended Monday evening as tweeters encouraged those pop divas to follow Grande and Lovato out the door.
An “older, wiser, and smarter” Bieber appears to be cleaning house
As for Bieber, who turns 30 next February and has been with the same management for his literally half of his life, he has already made a series of recent sweeping business decisions — including firing the CAA agency, hiring a new legal team, and reportedly working with former Britney Spears conservatorship co-manager Lou Taylor. A source told Page Six, “Everything has been set up by Scooter since he was a kid. Justin is older, wiser, and smarter, and has started asking questions.” The source also said Bieber’s wife of five years, Hailey Bieber, may have a big influence on these decisions, as she “has taken control” of her husband’s affairs and “is heavily involved. She’s a part of meetings and she’s talking a lot for him. She’s the voice. They’re becoming this power couple. She’s a big part of everything he’s doing.”
While Bieber has released a couple of singles and guested on few other artists’ tracks since the release of his most recent album, 2021’s critically acclaimed and Grammy-nominated Justice, and he joined rapper Don Toliver onstage at this year’s Rolling Loud festival for a surprise performance of their collaboration “Private Landing,” he has mostly kept a low profile as of late. Earlier this year, just months after he canceled his 2022 world tour due to his diagnosis of Ramsay Hunt Syndrome (which caused half of his face to be paralyzed), he sold his music publishing rights and recording catalog share to the Hipgnosis Songs Fund for $200 million — a move usually made by much older legacy acts that are eyeing retirement, not by 29-year-olds. Hipgnosis founder and CEO Merck Mercuriadis described the acquisition as one of the “biggest deals ever made for an artist under the age of 70” and credited Braun for helping Bieber “build a magnificent catalog.”
According to TMZ, Bieber turned down a headlining slot at the Coachella festival this year. However, rumors of the singer’s early retirement are probably untrue, as TMZ also reported that he only declined Coachella’s offer to focus on completing his anticipated seventh studio album, and that he is likely to headline the festival in 2024.
Scooter responds… sort of
Representatives for Braun, Grande, and Lovato have yet to respond to Yahoo Entertainment’s requests for comment, but Braun has acknowledged the swirling gossip in his own cryptic and sardonic way, via a tweet on Tuesday afternoon.