This afternoon I saw “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” a 3D documentary about the munificently-coiffed, uber-popular teen crooner who recently swept the American Music Awards and will play his first concert in Israel (and reportedly attend a seder) in April.
The seder will come courtesy of Bieber’s Jewish manager, Scott Samuel “Scooter” Braun, the 29-year-old music biz maven who discovered Bieber on YouTube four years ago and figures prominently in the doc.
In the film—which opens on Feb. 11—Braun is introduced as “definitely the dad” figure on tour with 16-year-old Bieber. We first meet him as he sternly orders the singer to stop fooling around inside what appears to be a forklift: “What’re you doing?” and “That’s not funny,” he says.
Braun—a marketing genius previously known for “discovering” rapper Asher Roth—comes off as the patriarch of the “functional dysfunctional family” surrounding Bieber: protecting him from screaming girl-fans, making sure he recovers from a case of strep throat, ordering him to stop talking so much, as teenagers are wont to do, when his vocal chords remain inflamed, and joyously dancing like a Chasid at Bieber’s triumphant, post-strep concert at Madison Square Garden.
Reportedly, Braun taught Bieber the “Shema” to recite during his pre-concert prayer circles, which also include Christian prayers led by Bieber’s born-again mom. The Jewish prayer at one point is caught on camera (this from the film’s director Jon M. Chu), but alas, you can’t tell what it is on the sound track.
Braun doesn’t discuss his Jewish background in the film, but he does describe how his expert nudging made Bieber a star. Braun had come home one night and was browsing the Internet when he came across one of Bieber’s homemade YouTube videos; when he clicked on the sixth one, he says, “That’s when I got the buzz.” The next day, he cancelled all his meetings. His mantra: “I’ve got to find this kid…I became obsessed.”
Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette, who at the time was living with her son in Stratford, Ontario, recounts her initial distrust of this pushy outsider: Who was this guy phoning her aunt and even members of the local school board to get to her? Mallette did phone Braun, if only to request that he stop calling. “She wanted to get rid of me,” Braun remembers,” but we ended up talking for two to three hours.”
Braun was apparently just as precocious a tween as his famous protégé. One day he came home from Middle School in Greenwich, CT and announced grandiose plans for a National History Day contest: “I put together this thing called ‘The Hungarian Conflict,’ a 10-minute thing about Jews in Hungary before, during and after the Holocaust. Kind of my family story,” he told Greenwich Magazine. Braun came in third place in the United States, even though he had only primitive editing equipment, and someone (he thinks maybe his grandmother) sent his winning video to Steven Spielberg. “I got a letter in the mail from [Spielberg]…, telling me that he was submitting my video to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., where it is still shown,” he said.
Mallette never envisioned a career for her son in mainstream pop but rather, in Christian music: “So when an Atlanta-based hip-hop manager named Scooter Braun called nearly two years ago, Ms. Mallette was confused,” The New York Times reported. “‘I prayed, “God, you don’t want this Jewish kid to be Justin’s man, do you?”’”
Never say never.