Lady Gaga performs "Applause" at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, at the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Miley Cyrus’ foam finger, Lady Gaga’s thong, Taylor Swift’s mean streak, and the look on Rihanna’s face while Drake performed will surely be remembered, but these MTV Video Music Awards belonged to Justin Timberlake.
Timberlake briefly reunited with ‘N Sync, won moonman trophies including top honor video of the year for “Mirrors” plus the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, and managed to overshadow most of today’s top pop stars while doing it.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were the night’s other top winners, taking home trophies for best hip-hop video and best cinematography for “Can’t Hold Us,” and best video with a social message for “Same Love.” They performed that song with Mary Lambert and Jennifer Hudson in a show-stopping moment.
It was one of the few poignant moments in a night filled with spectacle, spite, and lots and lots of skin.
Up until then, the ladies of pop music dominated as an X-rated Cyrus became the rare artist to upstage the recently rehabilitated Lady Gaga. But a vengeful Swift took the spotlight from both after appearing to utter an expletive to Selena Gomez when One Direction and rumored former love interest Harry Styles appeared at Sunday night’s award show — a moment that lit up Twitter.
Swift wasn’t the only one with a strong reaction to One Direction — cheers mixed with boos as they won song of the summer for “Best Song Ever.”
And she gave a shout out to an unnamed former beau for helping her win another moonman trophy for “I Knew You Were Trouble” in the best female video category. “I also want to thank the person who inspired this song, who knows exactly who he is, because I got one of these,” Swift said.
Gaga changed costumes four times during her first return to the stage since hip surgery as she performed her new single “Applause.” It was a predictably unpredictable appearance for Gaga, who opened the song in a white nun’s habit. By the time she finished the song, she was wearing a thong bikini and a long blonde wig.
Cyrus immediately kicked things up well beyond provocative, however, as she appeared on stage with a multitude of dancing teddy bears in a bodysuit adorned with a cartoon character. She twerked to her song “We Can’t Stop,” changed into a nude bikini, ran a fan’s foam finger along her privates as Robin Thicke appeared on stage to perform “Blurred Lines,” then gave the singer a lap dance.
Rihanna didn’t even have to take the stage to get a social media reaction after appearing to offer a sour face to Drake during his high energy performance of “Started From the Bottom.”
No one got the kind of time Timberlake did, though.
He powered through a breathless series of solo hits before the other four members of ‘N Sync — JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone, and Lance Bass — joined him on stage, opening with “Bye Bye Bye.” Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie” also won for best direction by David Fincher.
Other winners included Pink and Nate Ruess for best collaboration, Bruno Mars for best male video, Gomez for best pop video, Thirty Seconds to Mars for best rock video and artist to watch Austin Mahone.