NEAR TRUTHS: SEGUES AND SCHADENFREUDE

HOW BIG IS YOUR YACHT? According to published reports, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato have parted ways with Scooter Braun as manager. Additional gossip has suggested that Justin Bieber and Scooter are seeking a new arrangement, and negotiations are said to be ongoing. Meanwhile, coverage of the situation has offered a number of different explanations. Relentless spin abounds in the pop mediascape at present, from myriad sources, whether pro- or anti-Scooter.

Jem Aswad’s Variety story on the situation cites its own sources in explaining that the artists are likely under contract and that Braun is currently in negotiations with his roster to segue from management to some new role. (If true, this would explain why none of the parties has made an official statement.) This, the article underscores, would enable him to focus more fully on his role as CEO of HYBE America.

That role has included overseeing the company’s acquisition of QC, and now Braun is believed to be shopping for more companies to further expand HYBE’s reach. Meanwhile, discussion about a massive BTS reunion tour is creating sky-high expectations, especially in the wake of Jung Kook’s giant solo breakout. HYBE uber-boss Bang Si-Hyuk has told people he’s 100% behind their future plans.

Grande’s alleged decision was reported by Billboard, which further noted that it was “unclear whether Grande is severing all business ties with Braun.”

Grande is repped for legal by Aaron Rosenberg (as was Bieber until recently), while CAA is her agency (as was also the case with Biebs)—and neither of them has been fired. Braun’s SB Projects is said to have contracts with all of its major clients. Grande's 2020 set, positions, has racked up 2.4m in U.S. activity to date, while 2019’s thank u next is at 4.3m. At press time she dropped a deluxe digital edition of Yours Truly with six new tracks. She’s been playing arenas and some stadiums and is currently in production on the film version of the smash musical Wicked, the first part of which is due to hit screens in November of 2024 and will likely take her to a new plateau of pop-cultural ubiquity.

In addition to her long-standing reliance on the highly effective Rosenberg, Ari is said to have a strong relationship with her CAA agent, L.A.-based Kevin Huvane, whose stable includes some of the biggest names in film, TV and theater, and to be tight with agency music boss Rob Light.

Denials from the Bieber camp about a dissolution of the star’s relationship with Braun and SB lend credence to the hypothesis that negotiations continue between the parties. Reports that Team SB is still involved in the careers of Bieber and Grande support the idea of a possible change in role for Scooter. Some say he has a desire to transition out of management entirely and concentrate on building the asset value of HYBE.

HUDDLE UP: Another factor in this JB narrative is that some important new players have joined the team. One is big-time litigator Michael Rhodes of Cooley LLP, who also serves as general counsel for the Kardashians. Rhodes, along with Aaron Rosenberg, led the sale of Bieber’s catalog to Hipgnosis for a reported $200m. Another new arrival is business manager Lou Taylor, whose work on the Britney Spears team exposed her to controversy around the artist’s conservatorship, though many insiders feel she became a scapegoat for the machinations of others in the Britney circle. Taylor has also worked with the Kardashians, adding a little extra pop-cultural intrigue to this saga. Attorney David Lande of Ziffren Branca, who succeeds Rosenberg as JB's contractual/day-to-day attorney, boasts an impressive list of music clients.

The catalog sale is said to have been orchestrated to lift Bieber out of the massive debt he incurred by canceling multiple tours—according to one report, he owed AEG close to $50m from those cancellations. Some 100 dates are said to be owed to AEG, and these could take as long as four years to complete. Sources say that those dates will be commissioned by CAA. The artist is reportedly in the studio making music and unlikely to go out on tour until late 2024 at the earliest.

Indeed, Bieber’s finances were in a critical state—which is staggering given his enormous success over the years. It wasn’t long ago that he was selling out stadiums and arenas worldwide and dominating the streaming charts. Is that all in the rearview now? It’s anyone’s guess, but it’s important to remember that Bieber’s career was written off before, only to be revived and reach its greatest heights. Incidentally, his 2021 album, Justice, has hit 2.7m in U.S. ATD, the prior year’s Changes is at 1.7 and 2015’s colossal Purpose has racked up 6.7m.

Meetings are being set up now to secure a new agent for Bieber. UTA is said to be high on the list of shops under consideration, but WME, which reps some of the Kardashians as well as Hailey Bieber, is a strong contender, too.

THAT’S NOT ALL, FOLKS: Billboard also cited “sources” in reporting that Island’s Lovato would be quitting Scooterville, which began managing her in 2019. Variety cited its own sources in emphasizing that the split was “mutual and amicable.” Lovato is now said to be taking meetings with new managers. Her agent is Christian Carino at CAA, and she’s repped for legal by Rob Cohen at Carroll, Guido, et al. This was all hammered out much earlier this year and was only reported on this week. Lovato’s 2022 album, Holy Fvck, has done 130k in U.S. ATD, while 2021’s Dancing With the Devil is at 700k.

The Variety piece points to the “schadenfreude” factor for assorted haters in the biz who want to see Braun fail and are pushing an incomplete and/or inaccurate version of events. It’s clear he no longer wants to be an artist manager in the traditional sense.

The rumors and stories will keep flying. With respect to Bieber, if it’s no longer Scooter, who will it be? Some people think the new team will try to do it à la Taylor Swift. The only important missing element there would be Taylor Swift. And wouldn’t that be ironic?

Stay tuned.

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