Manager Scooter Braun has many reasons to celebrate these days. In addition to the recent birth of his second son, Levi, with wife and F— Cancer founder Yael Cohen, the 35-year-old is also toasting multiple Grammy nominations for his SB Projects artists Justin Bieber (four, including an album of the year nod for Purpose), Kanye West (eight) and Ariana Grande (two).
“It’s incredibly gratifying and exciting,” Braun tells Billboard. “I’m really happy for them. My dad was a basketball coach and I was raised to learn that a loss is the coach’s loss while a win is of the players. Right now, this is their win and I’m just happy to be a part of the journey.”
But there’s no denying the validation that comes with a Grammy nod, especially for 22-year-old Bieber, who has been snubbed by Grammy voters for his previous efforts and has also weathered some trying times on a personal level. “Nominations or no nominations, I’m proud of who he is as a young man and how he carries himself and the difference that he has made in himself in the last several years,” says Braun. “That’s what makes me proud. I’m happy that he’s being acknowledged by his peers in the artistic community for his album and the hard work because I feel like he deserves it. I think that this album was amazing. Yes, everyone else in the category deserves to be there and is absolutely incredible, but they didn’t face the same challenges.”
Indeed, Purpose — with its No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits “Sorry,” “Love Yourself” and “What Do You Mean” — has earned 4 million equivalent album units, according to Nielsen Music, and seems to have resonated with audiences of all ages and genders, bridging the genre divide by combining pop with R&B and dance music influences. Says Recording Academy president Neil Portnow: “You’re seeing a maturation of someone that’s been around for a bit, but really is still a very young man and finding his footing as to what he wants to say. Obviously, it’s resonating with a lot of people.”
Braun says there’s a reason for that. “The music is phenomenal,” he boasts. “And even the songs that aren’t No. 1s are really touching people on a very emotional level. Songs like ‘Purpose,’ ‘Children.’ And, of course, ‘Love Yourself’ and ‘Sorry’ … these songs will be around for a very long time. And I think Justin himself has become very relatable because he has an arc in his story, which all of us go through. The world watched him grow up in front of them. You’ve seen his faults. You’ve seen him fall down and stumble and get back up, and that’s human. So to make an album called Purpose and to lay it all out there the way that he did, people feel like they’re on the journey with him.”
In fact, Bieber’s comeback was not accidental, Braun explains, but rather a strategy that began with the March 2015 Comedy Central Roast of the pop star and continuing through an album cycle that would yield his sixth No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
“Justin is a very perceptive human being,” says Braun. “He’s very sensitive and aware that the only way to do this was to be extremely vulnerable and real. I feel like he’s being acknowledged now and as people go to the next step and vote, I hope they remember how much this album has accomplished and achieved and that for it to achieve that, what it had to overcome.”
That’s not to diminish the others in the album of the year category — Beyoncé, Adele, Drake and Sturgill Simpson — but, Braun points out, “They came in beloved and adored with high expectations of their albums, and Justin was coming in with people writing him off and thinking his career was over.”
Bieber’s nominations also signal a Grammy pivot of sorts toward, perhaps, a new generation of voters who aren’t as quick to reward the perennials of the past. Says Braun: “It comes down to the Grammys reaching out to the next generation, including them and figuring out a way to make the future musicians, engineers and mixers feel engaged and involved. I think Neil Portnow is an amazing guy who does a really good job, but he himself has to be really pleased with this year’s nominees because it’s an acknowledgment of tomorrow.”
Asked if he anticipates any backlash to what some are saying was Bieber knocking the late David Bowie‘s Blackstar out of the best album fight, Braun downplays. “This is the problem with competition among art,” he says. “There are a lot of great albums, and sometimes you make the cut and sometimes you don’t, and it doesn’t mean that the ones that didn’t don’t deserve to be there. I think Bowie absolutely deserves to be there. But so are the ones that were nominated.”
Of course, it’s all about perspective too. Braun recalls the night of Dec. 7, his first time out since the birth of Levi and a day after the Grammy noms were announced. “All these people were saying congratulations, and I think they’re talking to me about my kid, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, the Grammy nominations, that’s cool.’ It’s what your priorities are in life. Yes, it’s great that your peers acknowledge you, but when it’s pride about something that’s real like family, that’s what I’m most excited about.”
Braun himself has seen some very high highs and low lows over the past month. His grandmother, with whom he was very close, died in late November, and a few hours later, his brother Adam welcomed the birth of twins. Also, client Kanye West was admitted to a Los Angeles hospital after suffering a reported psychotic episode. Braun reflects on all the ups and downs with aplomb. “I am really grateful to have people in my life who give me perspective,” he says. “I lost someone very close to me, and that was an extremely hard thing, and I’ve seen people that I really care about — both on a professional and personal level — going through some hard times. But at the end of the day, when I come home and my kids are healthy and smiling, I look at my son and all he wants to know is that ‘Daddy’s home! Will you play with me?’ That perspective allows me to remember what’s most important in the world and I’m grateful for what I have. I appreciate you asking, but I’m really good. I am blessed.”