No interruptions from Kanye West, no Lady Gaga in drag, no Madonna-Britney makeout session – this year's MTV Video Music Awards were a pretty tame affair.
One Direction had the best showing on Thursday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles with three awards (one came before the telecast), but Rihanna took the top prize, winning Video of the Year for her wistful club jam "We Found Love." She was up for five Moonman statues along with Drake, who won Best Hip-Hop Video for "HYFR" – and gave one of the most heartfelt acceptance speeches.
After going for the hug with award presenter Rashida Jones, Drake thanked Lil Wayne and Young Money, while Wayne mugged in the background wearing red headphones and shades. "The video is about, you know, being me, being black and Jewish," Drake said, recalling a time when he was made fun of as a teen. He continued, "I want to dedicate this award to any kid who's ever had a long walk home by himself."
One Direction's wins included Best Pop Video and Best New Artist, and the lads seemed taken aback by their success. "To win one Moonman is amazing, to win two is incredible and to perform is absolutely ridiculous," Harry Styles said.
The performances were the saving grace at this year's VMAs, which included a powerful turn by Frank Ocean and the television debuts of new songs by Green Day, Pink, Alicia Keys and Taylor Swift. She closed the show with her irresistibly catchy "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together."
Opening honors went to Rihanna, who rose from behind the stage seated on a throne as green lasers swept the room. Flanked by dancers, she sang parts of her nasty sex anthem "Cockiness (Love It)" and "We Found Love." The lead-off spot wasn't enough for a Best Pop Video award, though: One Direction took the Moonman for "What Makes You Beautiful."
Pink started her performance alone with a keyboard and drum pad on a small platform, dialing in her breakthrough hit "Get the Party Started." It was a feint, of course: hooked into a harness, the singer sailed over the crowd to the stage, where she sang her new single, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," surrounded by dancers wearing garters and fishnets with their upper bodies hidden beneath costumes shaped like giant red lips.
Frank Ocean, a nominee in three categories including Best New Artist, let his voice float through his wrenching "Thinkin Bout You" while seated on what looked like a rock, a large bonfire blazing behind him as an electric guitar player plucked out low-key accompaniment.
Later, during Green Day's performance of new song "Let Yourself Go," singer Billie Joe Armstrong seemed none the worse for wear following his hospitalization for dehydration last weekend in Italy. He barked out the lyrics, and bellowed exhortations to the crowd as the band churned out the full-bore rocker.
Alicia Keys sang her new "Girl on Fire," accompanying herself on electric piano over a booming drum beat. She paused for a rap interlude from Nicki Minaj (whose "Starships" won Best Female Video), then a quick floor routine from Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas, who introduced Keys with the other members of the U.S. women's gymnastics team.
Host Kevin Hart was blissfully scarce after an early monologue in which he cracked jokes about the Drake-Chris Brown feud (a reaction shot caught Drake wincing in the audience); Frank Ocean announcing he was gay; Snooki's, well, Snooki-ness; and Kristen Stewart's cheating flap. Hart appeared later in separate clips with each of the acts up for Best New Artist, and for bits with new L.A. Laker Dwight Howard and Korean YouTube star Psy, who demonstrated his "Gangnam Style" dance moves.