New York - Miley Cyrus became the rare artist to upstage Lady Gaga, but a vengeful Taylor Swift managed to take the spotlight from both during the MTV Video Music Awards.
Swift appeared to utter an expletive when One Direction appeared at Sunday night's award show — a moment that lit up Twitter and was memorialised immediately in a GIF online — before thanking a former beau for helping her win another moonman trophy for I Knew You Were Trouble.
"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. "Thank you so much!"
Gaga changed costumes four times during her first return to the stage since hip surgery as she performed her new single Applause at the top of the show.
It was a predictably unpredictable appearance for Gaga, who seemed to pump in boos over the sound system as she opened the song in a white nun's habit and square headdress. By the time she finished the song, she was surrounded by unitard-clad male dancers and wearing a thong bikini decorated in shells 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.
"Miley better go get a pregnancy test after all that grinding," comedian Kevin Hart joked afterward.
Gaga and Cyrus were just the first of a cavalcade of music's top stars performing Sunday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where the awards were held for the first time. Justin Timberlake — the top nominee with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — was to be honoured with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.
Kanye West continued his stark portrayal of new music from his album Yeezus, performing Blood on the Leaves with its controversial Nina Simone Strange Fruit sample in silhouette in front of a black and white picture of a tree.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were the early leaders, taking best hip-hop video for Thrift Shop and best video with a social message for their song Same Love, which espouses marriage equality.
"Gay rights are human rights," Macklemore said during the telecast. "There is no separation."
Other early winners included Pink and Nate Ruess for best collaboration, Thirty Seconds to Mars for best rock video and Selena Gomez for best pop video.