Hurricane Telethon Highlights Scooter Braun's Other Job: Music's First Responder
"We need you to donate now, we need you to give -- we hope that every one of you, every citizen out there, will be the leaders we've been waiting for," Scooter Braun told viewers across the country on Sept. 12 from the stage at the Universal Studios lot in Los Angeles. The venue hosted the star-studded Hand in Hand telethon that he and Houston hip-hop star Bun B helped organize to support the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which killed dozens and caused billions worth of damage from Texas to Florida in September.
By the end of the evening, the benefit had raised $44 million, with donations still pouring in. Then on Sept. 13, after little sleep, Braun got back to his day job: managing some of the world's biggest pop stars, from Justin Bieber to Ariana Grande.
In recent years, Braun repeatedly has used his clout to try to make the world a better place. In 2015, he hosted a $2,700-a-head fundraiser for Hillary Clinton; this June, he spearheaded the One Love Manchester benefit show for victims of the terrorist bombing outside Grande's concert at England's Manchester Arena on May 22; and in July, he told his followers on Instagram that pop culture "ain't that important" given that "millions are living in fear of losing their healthcare."
But his race to action following the recent devastating hurricanes has cemented his role more firmly than ever as the music industry's unofficial activist organizer, prompting calls from political fundraisers and consultants for the 36-year-old to pursue a political career.
"Someone like Scooter is a perfect person to run for office," says Adrienne Elrod, a consultant who served as strategic communications director for Clinton's presidential run, which relied on Braun regularly to pair the right talent for different campaign events. "He's action-oriented, he's very smart, he's up to speed on all the issues -- he's the kind of passionate person you want in public policy, and we need more people like him out there."
But despite his proven ability to mobilize the masses into action, he says he doesn't want to be the only call people make in a crisis.
"I want everybody to be the go-to guy," Braun told Billboard before the telethon, noting that he planned to fly with Grande to Charlottesville, Va., to support a benefit show for racial violence victims that's being organized by Pharrell Williams and Dave Matthews Band on Sept. 24. "I want people to see what we're doing and say, 'I want to step up and do the next one.'"
The hurricane-relief telethon wasn't Braun's idea, nor did he have a particular tie to Houston. Bun B envisioned the event and decided to call Bieber's DJ, Tay James, to see if the pop star would make a public service announcement.
"My first idea was to get the most famous person I could get ahold of," Bun told Billboard after evacuating his Houston home and renting a truck to head to his friend's house in Dallas. James suggested calling Braun instead, given his recent experience in Manchester. Two days later, the planning was underway, with Braun helping to secure the participation of dozens of artists, including Beyoncé and Bieber. Some, such as Drake, had already called Braun independently for help formulating a plan. Apple, Verizon and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation underwrote the event, with Verizon providing 2,000 call centers; the four major TV networks broadcast the event, and production company Den of Thieves produced it pro bono.
"You have to act quickly," said Braun, adding that organizing such benefits is wrenching because "once you dive in and you get in there, you see people hurting. It becomes very real, and it isn't just another event. And every person you're asking, it really drains you. With the pro bono stuff, your heart is completely in it."
Braun's prayers for others to step up were answered quickly the morning after Hand in Hand, as another slew of superstar artists, including Paul Simon and Willie Nelson, announced an additional benefit show, dubbed Harvey Don't Mess With Texas, slated for Sept. 22.
After the telecast, a visibly exhausted Braun joked on the red carpet that the reason for the show's success was because "everyone loves UGK," referring to Bun B's hip-hop duo with the late Pimp C, before praising Bun for his vision and hard work. "When someone calls you with that kind of passion," said Braun, "you jump in."