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Who is Scooter Braun? The music manager’s controversies, explained

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

It looks like music manager Scooter Braun could be parting ways with some of his most high-profile clients; both Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato have split with the manager, according to Billboard reports.

Lovato was the first to officially confirm plans to move on, while rumours continued to swirl around Grande. Now, a source has told Variety that “Scooter’s team is spinning the story. Ariana is leaving both Scooter and HYBE [the South Korean entertainment company where Braun is a CEO]. There is absolutely no truth to her staying.”

Billboard also reports that Idina Menzel has left Braun’s management.

Braun is well-known for ‘discovering’ Justin Bieber back when he was a 12-year-old sharing covers on YouTube as an aspiring singer. As well as managing Bieber, his entertainment and marketing company, SB Projects, represents acts such as Black Eyed Peas, Ava Max, Tori Kelly, and Carly Rae Jepsen.

So, who is Scooter Braun, and what are his biggest controversies?

Born in New York, Scooter Braun started out putting on parties as a student at Emory University in Atlanta, quickly transforming into a full-fledged promoter. After organising five after-parties for Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and Eminem’s Anger Management tour, he dropped out of uni to go and work at the Atlanta-based record label So So Def, becoming the label’s executive marketing head when he was just 20.

After spotting a young, pre-fame Justin Bieber singing covers on YouTube, Braun signed him to the record label he’d founded with Usher in 2008; Bieber remains the only artist on the roster of RBMG Records. In 2013, Ariana Grande signed to Braun’s management company. Though he was briefly fired by the singer in 2016, they later reunited.

"It allowed me to know that I can be fired — I had never been fired before," Braun told Variety.

Braun’s management roster also includes Carly Rae Jepsen, David Guetta, Black Eyed Peas, Dan + Shay, Psy, and Tori Kelly. Demi Lovato signed to SB Projects in 2019, though she has reportedly left. “Dreams came true today for me… Couldn’t be happier, inspired and excited to begin this next chapter with you Scooter!!!” she wrote on Instagram when she signed, in a now-deleted post (all her pre-2022 social media has been erased) Thank you for believing in me and for being apart of this new journey.”

Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato’s double departure

The departure of both Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato from SB Projects within the same week raises questions about the timing of both artists’ exit, though little detail is known about why each decided to part ways with Braun. A source close to the situation told Billboard that “it was time for Lovato to go in a new direction, even though she was thankful for her time with SB Projects” and added that she doesn’t yet have new management.

Little is known about why Grande has opted to split from Braun after originally signing to his management company back in 2013, and no details have been made public. However, a source told Variety: “They are friendly but she’s outgrown him and is excited to go in a different direction,” the source continued. “Yes, there are negotiations [with Braun] happening because of contracts. But this is her choice. It’s time for something new.”

Another source told Variety that Grande intends to build her own team, and “has a model in mind similar to that of Taylor Swift and other major artists, whereby management personnel are paid a healthy annual salary rather than by commission.”

Her apparent exits come weeks after rumours swirled around Justin Bieber also leaving Braun’s stable, though representatives for both sides later denied the reports when approached for comment by Billboard.

On top of that speculation, the Colombian Reggaeton artist J Balvin also dropped Braun as management back in May, signing instead with Roc Nation.

The Taylor Swift feud

Besides his role in discovering Justin Bieber, Braun is perhaps best known for his public dispute with Taylor Swift. The manager has owned the masters for Swift’s first six records since he bought her former record label Big Machine in June 2019, and the singer has been recording definitive new Taylor’s Versions of her earlier albums in a bid to devalue Braun’s masters and take back control of her work (though Braun sold the master rights on to an investment fund less than 18 months later in a deal reported at the time to be worth more than $300million). In a Tumblr post written on June 30, 2019, Swift alleged that Braun had subjected her to “incessant, manipulative bullying”.

“Scooter has stripped me of my life’s work, that I wasn’t given an opportunity to buy,” she wrote. “Essentially, my musical legacy is about to lie in the hands of someone who tried to dismantle it.”

She has never clarified exactly what this refers to, but as well as owning Swift’s masters, Braun managed Kanye West during the period in which the rapper released his song Famous. The track reignited a feud that began at the 2009 VMA awards, where West interrupted an early-career Swift in the middle of her acceptance speech. The track includes the lyric: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that b**ch famous”.

HYBE employees under investigation

In 2021, Scooter Braun sold his company Ithaca Holdings to HYBE - the music company formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment, who manage K-Pop superstars such as BTS, TOMORROW X TOGETHER, and SEVENTEEN. According to Billboard, Bieber, Grande, and Lovato were among the 39 individuals set to split shares with an overall total value of about $161 million following the sale.

Braun now sits on the board of HYBE as the CEO of HYBE America, but reportedly sold 68,500 shares in the company – with a value of approximately $14.15 million – in June this year.

Elsewhere, HYBE is currently subject to controversy around BTS’ sudden split last year. According to the Korean Economic Daily, three anonymous employees at HYBE stand accused of insider trading after allegedly offloading shares in the company ahead of BTS’ break-up going public. The paper writes: “The regulatory Financial Supervisory Service (FSS) said the three unidentified employees avoided a total of 230 million won ($174,000) in losses by unloading the stock ahead of the news about BTS’s solo career launch plans.”

News of BTS’ split sent shares in HYBE plummeting by 24.8 per cent. The FSS accused HYBE’s employees of violating the capital markets act, and the Seoul Southern District Prosecutors’ Office has now launched an investigation amid speculation that news of BTS’ split leaked before it was revealed publicly.