DETAILS: As a 25-year-old newbie manager, you discovered a 12-year-old Justin Bieber on YouTube, persuaded him and his mom to move to Atlanta, and, despite constant rejection, got him a record deal. What role has chutzpah played in your career?
Scooter Braun: It’s funny—since I was a kid, I’ve been convinced I was going to die at 32. So I believed I needed to achieve as much as I possibly could while I’m young. And I had my 33rd birthday last week—I made it! The week before, I’d told friends, “Get doctors on call.”
DETAILS: Where does that combination of fatalism and motivation come from?
Scooter Braun: My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. They lived normal lives, and then, in one moment, it was all taken away from them. Growing up in Connecticut, I dealt with someone carving a swastika into the side of my car. So chutzpah, for me, was like, “Okay, there’s never been a Jewish class president at my high school, so I’m going to be the first one.”
DETAILS: Were you a well-behaved kid?
Scooter Braun: I did a lot wrong. A lot. I was arrested for speeding and fighting. . . . [Laughs] My father used to call Justin “my revenge on you,” because I was such a difficult kid.
DETAILS: How has your relationship with Bieber changed over the years?
Scooter Braun: I go through the same experiences as someone raising a child, just with heightened sensitivities, because when he does something dumb, it’s front-page news. When you’re young, you idolize the older man in your life and do anything he says. As you get older, you want to be more independent. You’ve got to let them make the mistakes, then be there to help them when they fall.
DETAILS: Of course. But one of the mistakes he makes could be fatal. How do you balance that risk?
Scooter Braun: If I was the parent, I’d have been there for the first 13 years. I’m picking up the pieces. He’s 20. Ariana Grande, who I also manage, is 21. When they make a mistake, I have to literally look them in the eye and say, “It doesn’t matter that you pushed me away, I’m here to help you now.” I said this to two of my artists the other day, as a joke: “Maybe it’s time for me to have my own kids and stop raising other people’s poorly.”
DETAILS: Because your clients are teen pop stars, you encounter a lot of fans going crazy. Have you ever felt threatened?
Scooter Braun: It’s never the kid who’s over the top—it’s always the parent. People do crazy, fucked-up shit for their kids. I’ve seen parents fistfight—two mothers arguing over who’s in line for a meet-and-greet and a full-on brawl breaks out. I’ve seen moms try to sneak their kids in by hiding in a Dumpster.
DETAILS: David Geffen is one of your idols. By the time he was your age, he’d discovered Jackson Browne and worked with the Eagles, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell. Where’s your Joni Mitchell?
Scooter Braun: I make very successful records today, he made successful records then. I feel I have amazing artists. Carly Rae Jepsen is one of the best songwriters I know. Ariana has one of the most incredible voices I’ve ever heard.
DETAILS: Do you care whether you ever get respect from the music snobberati?
Scooter Braun: I have artists that have touched people and affected lives around the world. People just want to hate. I’ll give you an example: “Gangnam Style.” I meet this guy Psy, a slightly overweight man from Asia who’s dancing around in a video. Everyone told me I was out of my mind to sign him. The song goes No. 1 for weeks and weeks, all over the world. You know what people said? “Bet they can’t do it again.” What the fuck is wrong with you? The fact we did it once is amazing!
DETAILS: You spend a lot of time around tweens and teens. What do you think defines kids today?
Scooter Braun: They’re a very self-promoting generation. They’re told, “Get as many social-media followers as you can. Take selfies.” And they have to deal with issues I never had. In my generation, if you were bullied at school, it sucked, but it stopped when you went home. These kids, if they’re bullied, they’re bullied 24-7—on Facebook, on Twitter. This year, a kid from my high school committed suicide on the second day of school because he was bullied. Shot himself in the head. Even though they’re learning self-promotion, we need to help them with self-preservation.
DETAILS: Do you have an inner teenager?
Scooter Braun: Look, my name is Scooter. And I wear Mickey Mouse T-shirts from time to time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve introduced myself, “Hey, I’m Scooter,” and the adult I’m talking to is like, “For real?” And I go, “I know, it’s a piece-of-shit name.” My wife calls me Scott. But the name’s advantageous, because when you show people that you can be playful, they open up and drop their guard. I am what I am.