TORONTO - Justin Bieber faced a hostile homecoming at the 100th Grey Cup on Sunday, with the jeering capacity crowd at the raucous Rogers Centre providing the teen idol with a reception as unyieldingly cold as a long Canadian winter.
The 18-year-old grew up roughly 150 kilometres down the road in Stratford, Ont., but that didn't help his cause with the rowdy crowd on hand, who took aim at the ubiquitous pop star whenever possible.
They booed when his face popped up on the JumboTron. They booed when a host spoke his name at the onset of halftime. And they booed with extra glee as he took the stage and throughout his medley of the finger-snapping, chart-topping hit "Boyfriend" and the disco-inflected club come-on "Beauty and a Beat."
If Bieber was bothered by the boo-birds, it didn't show.
"It's an honour to be here at the Grey Cup in Canada," he said, a smile tugging at his lips despite the reaction.
"Make some noise. I said make some noise!"
Unfortunately, they crowd obliged. More boos.
Still, Bieber was outwardly unruffled. Clad in a black leather tanktop with baggy pants and a gold chain dangling around his neck, he put in a lithe performance, slickly executing his steps surrounded by dancers dressed in black-and-gold letterman jackets branded with his second initial.
As he wrapped up "Beat" — which typically features a verse from rap's reigning oddball queen Nicki Minaj — a dazzling array of pyro popped into the air and at first the crowd responded enthusiastically. But once again, the cheers dissolved into boos.
"Thank you so much Canada," Bieber announced, ignoring the response. "I love you."
If the feeling of this particular crowd wasn't mutual, there were certainly omens. There were those early-game jeers any time Bieber's face popped up onscreen, and as fans poured into the Rogers Centre, few summoned much enthusiasm for the teen idol.
Most figured that while Bieber is a bona fide draw — an international star and tabloid fixture whose latest record "Believe" became his third straight to reach multi-platinum status in Canada after its June release — most of those fans simply weren't at the game.
Surely, the CFL was hoping to court his army of tween followers (numbering more than 30.6 million), who hang on Bieber's every tweet but might otherwise be unlikely to tune into the Grey Cup game between Toronto and Calgary.
But the divide between Bieber's young, predominantly female fanbase and the CFL faithful is as broad as a lineman's shoulders.
"Not a real big fan of Justin Bieber, sorry," said 52-year-old Johanna Ellis of Kitchener, Ont., as she navigated the Rogers Centre before the game.
"It's not a very good choice in a stadium full of football fans."
Indeed, recent Grey Cup halftime performers have skewed toward the comparatively heavy likes of Bachman & Turner, Nickelback, Theory of a Deadman and Lenny Kravitz, a drastic contrast to Bieber's fizzy pop confections.
"J-Biebs doesn't scream football, you know? Neither does Carly Rae Jepsen," agreed Calgary's Ryan Prisque, 22.
"Gordon Lightfoot — that'll be the time I turn back from the beer gardens and watch."
The 74-year-old Lightfoot certainly did captivate the crowd Sunday. With the stadium lights down, Lightfoot opened the halftime show by materializing on a modest stage near the 50-yard line, dressed in black and strumming an acoustic guitar. The crowd roared.
His long grey hair swept back, the stalwart songwriter — originally from Orillia, Ont. — put in a gentle performance of his iconic 1967 hit "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" that lacked the theatrics of Bieber's performance but nonetheless enthralled the audience, who gamely clapped along. When he was finished, they roared again.
Attention then shifted to set of three stages lined up along one side of the stadium, with a cluster of amped-up fans rushing in and clustering around.
Vancouver pop outfit Marianas Trench was greeted mostly with indifference after their performance, while 27-year-old Jepsen also received a mixed reaction at first but won the crowd over during an enthusiastic medley of her latest single, "This Kiss," and her dangerously infectious smash hit "Call Me Maybe."
But the crowd was seemingly immune to Bieber's charms — and some seemed to have been waiting for the opportunity to show their displeasure with the young star.
He had certainly been visible during Grey Cup week.
Bieber was spotted at a trendy local club on Friday night after being photographed earlier in the evening playing hoops with Toronto rap star Drake and Raptors forward Amir Johnson.
Earlier in the week, he was presented with a Diamond Jubilee Medal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and courted controversy with his casual wardrobe choice: striped blue overalls (unbuttoned on one shoulder) over a white T-shirt, accessorized with a backwards black baseball cap and glittering jewelry jangling around his neck and wrist.
There was sufficient uproar over his outfit that Harper even weighed in on Twitter.
"In fairness to (Bieber)," Harper tweeted Sunday, "I told him I would be wearing my overalls too."
Well, the fashion feedback seemed tame compared to the scathing response from the Toronto crowd.
Of course, Bieber — who will return to both the Rogers Centre and his usual bevy of deliriously adoring fans next Saturday — did have faithful supporters sprinkled among the fans crammed into the cavernous building.
"I missed Justin Bieber in Winnipeg ... so this is good for me," said Brittnay Dueck, attending the game with her mom.
"I'm surprised that they chose someone who's a little bit younger. Being 26, I'm OK with it. But I think everyone else who's here might not like it."