At the start of the show, host Kevin Hart took the stage with an opening monologue that centered on "mistakes," first calling out Drake and Chris Brown over their recent bottle-throwing incident at a Manhattan night club.
Next was Frank Ocean. "I think what Frank Ocean did was really great," Hart said, referring to the R&B singer's recent letter to fans revealing his first love was a man.
Snooki was the comedian's following target. He warned the "Jersey Shore" star and new mom not "to do anything crazy with her baby." Hart even tackled Kristen Stewart.
Katy Perry announced the first televised award of the night -- best pop video, which went to U.K. boy band One Direction for "What Makes You Beautiful." 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.
Brown took home best male video for "Turn Up the Music," and Drake won best hip-hop video for "HYFR," featuring Lil Wayne. Drake talked about his black and Jewish roots growing up in Toronto and his sometimes outsider status.
Minaj, dressed in a skintight full-body outfit and sporting yellow hair, won best female video for "Starships."
The evening was full of performances, too. Pink floated above the crowd on a pair of oversized lips as she performed her new song "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," and Ocean sang "Thinking About You." One Direction got the crowd cheering again with its performance.
Green Day played its new single "Oh Love" during the second half of the show, just days after frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was rushed to the hospital after a case of severe dehydration. He looked and sounded just fine as the punk rock trio rocked the stage. Bass player Mike Dirnt told MTV News that Armstrong had been suffering from "heavy, heavy dehydration" in Italy but was recovering thanks to "push-ups, prayers and vitamins."
Olympian Gabby Douglas came out during Alicia Keys' performance of "Girl on Fire" to show off some of her gymnastics skills.
The show ended with Taylor Swift singing her hit single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together."
Robert Pattinson was on hand to introduce a teaser of "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 2."
Going into the night, Rihanna and Drake were the show's top nominees, with five apiece.
Before the show even started, three MTV Video Music Awards were already handed out.
Demi Lovato, who performed on the red carpet, and Calvin Harris, who spun tunes inside the Staples Center before the ceremony, respectively picked up honors in two new categories: best video with a message for Lovato's "Skyscraper" and best electronic dance music video for Harris' "Feel So Close."
"I've always wanted one of these!'' beamed Lovato.
One Direction also earned a Moonman trophy in the new most share-worthy category for "What Makes You Beautiful.'' The British boy band nabbed the award because they garnered more than 27 million tweets with the (hashtag)VoteOneDirection on Twitter. Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" came in second place, earning more than 26 million tweets.
Red carpet scoop
MTV tried something new this year, unveiling a double-decker red carpet that featured two stories of stars and celebrity. Thousands of fans lined up outside the show's new home in Los Angeles.
While on the red carpet, Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose announced they were expecting. Miley Cyrus said she hasn't had any time to think about planning her wedding to actor Liam Hemsworth because she's been too busy working on new music.
The crowd chanted "USA! USA!" at the appearance of members of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team. And heartthrobs in the boy band One Direction drew some of the loudest cheers of the day, 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 seemed to be keeping her cool with a wavy blonde mohawk and said she was looking forward to debuting a new song.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, were on a few minds along the red carpet.
Tom Petty and Regina Spektor said that it if they could have anyone appear in one of their music videos, they'd pick the first lady.
"I would have to wear such high heels," said Spektor, whose video is up for an art-direction award. "She is the most stunning, tall woman."
Petty called Bill Clinton's address Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention "one of the great American speeches I've ever heard" and said he's "still kind of high" from hearing his band's song play before President Obama took the podium.