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“THE HERO IS MANCHESTER”: SCOOTER BRAUN ON ONE LOVE

Interview by Simon Glickman

Manager Scooter Braun took a moment following the One Love concert in Manchester to talk to us about what turned out to be a powerfully emotional and hugely successful event planned on short notice, how his artist Ariana Grande weathered the extraordinary tragedy and fear of the preceding weeks and how Saturday’s terrorist attacks in London affected the outcome.

First of all, how are you doing?
Tired. It’s surreal. Life continues—I just landed in Denmark for Justin Bieber’s show and then I go to Paris for Ariana’s show tomorrow. These last two weeks of my life have been 100% dedicated to this. To see it go from an idea in your head to becoming a reality and seeing her persevere through it, and the community come together to support it, just blows my mind. The hero is Manchester. That city and their strength, those people coming together less than 24 hours after a terrorist attack in their country—Manchester, to me, is the ultimate city of hope for what’s going on in the world right now.

The feedback on the show has been tremendous, especially given how little time there was to put it together. It seems Ariana, Justin and all the performers really underscored how music can be a force for love and positivity in dark times.
All of us, especially in our industry, are looking for a sense of purpose right now. The world has changed, and we’re all trying to figure out what we can do. Whether you’re in our business or not, everyone’s a little bit lost. You’re fearful and frustrated, and for the music community, last night was an amazing moment showing we can make a very big difference. Whether you were there or watching on video or didn’t even take part, people are inspired to move forward.

How did the London attacks affect the dynamics of the preparation? Were the existing organizational challenges made more difficult?
I was in London, at Wembley Stadium, rehearsing when the attacks happened. Then we drove the two and a half hours back to Manchester. For 30 seconds I wondered, Are we doing the right thing? After those 30 seconds, I was more determined than ever to put on that show. Everyone was saying, “Oh, it’s too sensitive, it’s too soon.” My whole idea was: It’s actually the opposite. The best way we can honor these people is by not letting their lives become a tragedy. One mother said, “Don’t let my daughter become a victim.” We can’t allow these tactics to work, because then they died in vain. What we need to do is make the statement quickly and as a community that you will not change our way of life. That’s why I pushed so hard.

And when [London] happened, it was even more so. When are we supposed to take our kids to the movies? When are we supposed to go to a ballgame? Are we supposed to wait three years? Four years? Evil is not going away. Terrorism is not going away. We have, probably, a very hard decade in front of us. Manchester showed us how to respond.

For 30 seconds [after the London attacks] I wondered, Are we doing the right thing? After those 30 seconds I was more determined than ever to put on that show.

I put out my statement saying we were going ahead. Then the police put out a statement saying, “Yes, the event will continue with extra security; however the alert is now at critical, meaning ‘highly likely there will be an attack.’ Please be vigilant.” We thought, They just told people it was highly likely there was going to be an attack? People won’t come! We’re broadcasting this on the BBC, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter—they could sit in their houses. It ended up being the most-watched broadcast of the year. Millions and millions of people watched at home. But these 55,000 people could’ve stayed in the comfort of their homes and instead they came. When Marcus Mumford started the show and asked for a moment of silence, the whole place went silent. And when, just before playing, he said, “Let’s not be afraid,” the place roared. It was one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever witnessed.

When I was watching Ariana on the live feed I was reminded of how young she is and everything that was on her shoulders in that moment. She really seemed to dig deep and make what might have been her most powerful connection yet. What kinds of exchanges did you have about how she would approach her performance?
She didn’t know if she could sing. What she did yesterday was courageous. At one point before the show she was very, very nervous—it’s been a very hard two weeks for her—and she said, “I don’t know if I can go onstage. Tell me something good.” I said, “I’ll tell you something good: I’m eternally grateful to you. You’ve given me purpose. This doesn’t happen without you. Everyone’s working hard but this is on your shoulders. And you’ve shown so much courage to step up and do this.” I was incredibly proud of her. Everyone [involved] saw what happened in London and not one of them canceled. In fact, some of them called me to say, “You’d better not be canceling.”

For those of us experiencing the show at a remove, what can you say about what it was like to be in the middle of it?
I’m not doing a lot of interviews about this, but I’m doing this because you guys speak to our community. If you convey one thing to them, I hope it’s that these are troubling times but we can do something. We were told “no” 100 times [in the course of planning One Love] but refused to hear it, because we were resolute that we were going to do something significant, try to make a change. I hope our community steps up and continues to do this, because we have an ability to make a serious change. You saw it in the ’70s, and now it’s our time to help.

"I told Ariana, 'I’m eternally grateful to you. You’ve given me purpose. This doesn’t happen without you. Everyone’s working hard but this is on your shoulders. And you’ve shown so much courage to step up and do this.'”

The tragedy at Ariana’s Manchester show and the London attacks have thrust both AG and you into the spotlight in a new way—you’ve been called upon to speak publicly about forces and feelings that are a million miles from music. What new insights, if any, have come from all of this?
I don’t think anyone is prepared for this kind of moment. But the most recent election gave rise to a lot of confusion as to whether people listen, or whether we can still have a voice. A lot of people looked to our community to show strength and right now is more than ever a time to do so. And the best way to do it is to stand together.

This was certainly an illustration of people refusing to be stopped or bowed by terrorism.
There was an amazing moment at the end of the show, when 55,000 people were leaving the building and started singing the Robbie Williams song at the top of their lungs—as loud as anything in the concert—“Manchester, we are strong, we are strong.” Oh my god, it was so powerful.

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