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July 25, 2014

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The backlash has taken hold — but why was Biebs booed?

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Steve Marcus

Justin Bieber accepts the Milestone Award during the 2013 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, May 19, 2013.

2013 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand

Prince performs during the 2013 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena Sunday, May 19, 2013. Launch slideshow »

The Biebs Backlash is setting in.

As Justin Bieber stood at the mic to accept the first Milestone Award at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards on Sunday night, a mass of fans in MGM Grand Garden Arena showered the contemporary music superstar (and world’s top Twitter manager) with a cascade of boos.

How could this happen? Whither the Beliebers?

Before the show, fans who waited 2 hours for a glimpse of Biebs on the Billboard blue carpet repeatedly shouted, “We want Justin! We want Justin!” (He never did show up on the carpet). Bieber later gave two high-energy, though evidently lip synched, performances before receiving his Milestone Award. He also had accepted the Top Male Artist Award. Everyone cheered for that.

But when Bieber took the stage and accepted the Milestone Award from CeeLo Green, the young icon didn’t say a word for nearly a minute (Billboard.com actually clocked the seconds it took for Bieber to speak; it was 57).

From the telecast feed in the media room, it seemed Bieber’s long pause may have prompted boos, as fans grew impatient for him to say something.

In fact, it was the other way around — Bieber was temporarily rendered speechless as a result of being booed. He finally said something for which he is likely to be famous, “I’m 19 years old. I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”

Bieber looked like a young pitcher who had just given up his first walk-off homer, shell-shocked, wishing he’d thrown a different pitch.

Maybe the fans were reacting to the fact that a teenager had just won what seems like a lifetime achievement award (though the Milestone Award is actually based on sales and popularity and voted on by fans).

Or maybe he was called out because he had beaten some quite popular and well-respected artists, Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars among them.

Or maybe Bieber heard these boos because fans are becoming annoyed at his conduct on tour (swearing at photographers and writing weird, self-serving notes in the guest book at the Anne Frank Museum), or that he he seems to be something of a pothead.

Not that smoking pot will in and of itself torpedo the career of a pop star, but Bieber has crafted something of an untarnished image — and now he smokes pot! And wears tattoos!

Or maybe it’s that the public wants to scuff up this kid a bit.

At age 19, Bieber has recorded five No. 1 albums (comparatively, at 19, Elvis recorded his first single at Sun Records, “That’s All Right”). He’s up there with the all-time greats, but many of those superstars had to toil in crappy nightclubs or taverns or dingy county fairs before reaching the type of fame and notoriety enjoyed by Bieber. One reason Garth Brooks’ acoustic show at the Wynn was such a terrific performance is because Brooks reached back to his days of playing for boozy, staggering revelers at Willie's Saloon in Stillwater, Okla.

Bieber has no Willie’s Saloon anecdotes in his arsenal.

He’s a very talented guy, of course, and seemingly born under a lucky star. But fans are fickle. They don’t mind cornering their idols to see if they can take a punch, and I think that’s what we heard Sunday in Las Vegas.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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