The 2012 awards were scripted as lead-nominee Rihanna's night, but the teens in One Direction won three awards, including best pop video and best new artist Thursday night at The Staples Center in Los Angeles.
There was no signature moment as in year's past, but Rihanna's show-opening medley was one of the night's sauciest moments.
Other winners included Drake, whow as tied with Rihanna with five nominations apiece, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Coldplay, Calvin Harris and Demi Lovato.
Rihanna started the party Thursday night sitting regally upon a throne as she performed her new song "Cockiness (I Love It)" with A$AP Rocky and two groups of dancers. She then made her way into the pit at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and launched into her hit "We Found Love" as she weaved through the crowd, touching hands with dozens of fans.
But One Direction, the heartthrob British boy band, brought thunderous cheers from the crowd upon winning best pop video, the night's first televised award and one of five top-nominee Rihanna was up for. They also won the most share-worthy moonman during the pre-awards show.
The quintet, the first British act to debut atop the Billboard 200 album chart, seemed stunned as fans screamed upon announcement of their win.
"We've grown up watching this show and to even be here is an honor," Niall Horan said before the band made its way through the crowd.
Pink was up next, floating above the crowd on a pair of oversized lips as she performed her new song "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" before Chris Brown pulled off another upset in the best male video category. Rihanna's former boyfriend won for his self-directed video "Turn Up The Music," beating out several top stars, including Drake, who tied Rihanna for most nominations. Drake won best hip-hop video for "HYFR," which featured Lil Wayne.
Host Kevin Hart opened up old wounds between Brown and Drake in his opening monologue, spoofing the two for the bar brawl that took place between their entourages in June.
Drake and friends Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne sat stone-faced as Hart joked: "Nip it in the bud guys. I'm tired of it. Fix it tonight."
MTV tried something new this year, unveiling a double-decker red carpet that featured two stories of stars and celebrities. Thousands of fans lined up outside the show's new home, the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The crowd chanted "USA! USA!" at the appearance of members of the gold medal-winning U.S. gymnastics team and Katy Perry kissed gymnast Jordyn Wieber's bicep. One Direction drew the loudest cheers of the day - something even rivals The Wanted acknowledged - even though fans had to labor under a scorching sun with the temperature at 90 degrees.
Ne-Yo, wearing a long sleeve black shirt, camouflage pants and a black fedora, said he was feeling the heat.
"I'm sweating like a fool," he said. "But I look good."
Pink looked like seemed to be keeping her cool with a wavy blonde Mohawk, studded with spikes.
"I like weapons," Pink said.
The sun was especially hot for Amber Rose, who accentuated her pregnant belly with a black lace gown as she and fiance Wiz Khalifa showed off a baby bump.
"I'm hot, and my feet hurt, but I look gorgeous," Rose said.
Taylor Swift, who leaned into the crowd to sign autographs, is set to play her infectious runaway hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" live for the first time, while Lil Wayne and Alicia Keys will debut new songs.
The VMAs also acknowledged electronic dance music with a new category, which was won by Calvin Harris for his video of "Feels So Close." He also served as house DJ.
"I'm like the bread in between the meat and the cheese," Harris said on the red carpet.
There also will be a teaser of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 2." And for the first time MTV will announce an award via Facebook. Best rock video will be given out early in the show's run via a "Thank You Cam" live stream that can only be accessed at MTV's Facebook page.