When Scooter Braun and Bang Si-hyuk first began to discuss the possible merger of their two companies, their Zoom calls had surprisingly little to do with business. As Braun, whose Ithaca Holdings was acquired by Korean entertainment giant HYBE in a $1.05 billion deal, recounted in a Variety cover story this week: “We talked about our interests, meditation, music, family, and we really became friends.”
The conversations went so well that Braun traveled to South Korea, self-quarantined for the mandated period of time, and saw firsthand the presence and power of the company formerly known as Big Hit Entertainment and home to pop group BTS.
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Braun had visited the country several times in the past, mainly during concert stops with management clients like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, but also notably with Korean artist Psy, whose “Gangnam Style” was a massive global hit in 2012 and a precursor to the K-pop wave which includes the likes of BTS, Blackpink, NCT127 and others.
“Bang and his team are incredible,” says Braun of his recent trip to Seoul. “They’re so gracious, so humble and so smart. I really enjoyed spending time with them. And we worked really hard — it was eight- to 12-hour days of really drilling into who’s who and does what on what team and making sure that we’re going to have synergies. Our branding teams are talking to each other. Artists are meeting each other. We’re just a [few] weeks in, but there’s a lot of excitement.”
As Bang recounts to Variety: “When we first made the deal with Ithaca Holdings, I thought I was simply acquiring a company. However, as I began having deeper conversations with Scooter, I came to the realization that I was gaining a valuable partner with the deal. … I was also deeply moved by Scooter and his team’s attitude and culture of placing the utmost importance on their mission of innovating the music industry which aligns impeccably with HYBE’s mission and values. We’ll continue to work together to enhance our respective strengths and expertise so we can ultimately increase our value as a team.”
What does that mean for their respective artists? Says Braun, who Variety named Music Mogul of the Year: “I asked [Bang], ‘Do you expect our artists to collaborate with your artists?’ And he goes, ‘if they want to.’ … It’s about what’s right and what can we build together long-term. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my new partners. I know they have it for me. I know they have it for our artists just in the way they’ve responded to certain things already.”
And what of BTS? “They’re great,” says Braun of his meeting with RM, Jin, Suga, J-Hope, Jimin, V and Jungkook in Seoul. “They’re beyond humble. They asked really smart questions. They’re very gracious. And when you’re in a room with them, you know there’s a reason why this is the biggest group in the world. You can just feel it. But just to hang out with them and ask each other questions and be supportive of each other, it was a lot of fun.”
Braun is hopeful that the merged companies can bridge East and West. “I think American arrogance has been the reason why we failed in the past,” he offers. “Like, we think we know best, and this is the way it should be. I told my team, this is about relationships and humbling ourselves to the fact that we are all partners. It’s not about ego.
Bang is currently in Los Angeles and has been by Braun’s office, as revealed on Instagram.
For more about Scooter Braun’s billion-dollar deal with HYBE, check out this week’s episode of Variety‘s Strictly Business podcast.
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