Frank Ocean crooned “Thinkin Bout You" before a forest of palm fronds and a burning inferno, his falsetto evoking shrieks from the crowd.
Rihanna Wins Best Video, but Frank Ocean, One Direction, Pink, Alicia Keys are Best in Show
Hard to believe it’s been 28 years since Madonna writhed around on the stage of the Radio City Music Hall in a wedding cross performing “Like a Virgin.”

That was the very first MTV Video Music Awards back in 1984, and the annual gala has simultaneously gotten bigger—this year’s version was held in L.A.’s Staples Center—and smaller, with videos having long since given way to reality programming like Jersey Shore on the self-proclaimed music network

Last night’s show was moved back an hour, to 5 p.m., and cut down to two hours to avoid going up against President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The briskly paced ceremony was packed with performances…and, oh yeah, a few awards were handed out, too.

And while Rihanna earned the night’s top award for “We Found Love,” her hit with Calvin Harris, who served as the evening’s guest DJ and won an award himself in the Best Electronic Music Dance category, it was the evening’s performances that registered most vividly. Chief among those was Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You,” which he crooned before a forest of palm fronds and a burning inferno, his falsetto evoking shrieks from the crowd. His Island/IDJ album channel ORANGE climbed as high as #7 on iTunes, while the single is currently Top 20.

One Direction went home with the most Moonmen of the night, going three for three, as “What Makes You Beautiful” earned the award voted on by fans, Best New Artist, as well as Best Pop Video and Most Shareworthy Video. The boy band's performance of their current single, “One Thing,” on top of an elevated platform shaped like a boxing ring, was the most enthusiastically received of the night.

Rihanna’s opening performance of “Cockiness (Love It),” her new single, was highlighted by guest rapper A$AP Rocky seemingly groping her, with the diva reacting by pushing him away.

Two RCA pop icons, Pink and Alicia Keys, performed their new singles, the former swinging from a trapeze and cavorting with a chorus line of dancing lips for “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” and the latter joined by U.S. Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas and hip-hop star Nicki Minaj for a smoking “Girl on Fire,” the title track from her upcoming album, both singles lodging in the iTunes Top 10 at #6 and 8, respectively.

Chris Brown, whose feud with Drake made for some joking by mostly ineffectual MC Kevin Hart, took home a pair of awards for Best Male Video and Best Choreography for “Turn Up the Music,” while his nemesis grabbed Best Hip-Hop Video for “HYFR” featuring Lil Wayne, who introduced his latest single, “No Worries” after joining with 2 Chainz on his “Yuck.”

M.I.A. also grabbed a pair of Moonmen, with “Bad Girl” earning nods for Best Cinematography and Best Direction.

Green Day, the only rockers on the show, performed their new single, “Let Yourself Go,” from the middle of the arena floor, surrounded by moshing fans, while an adorable Taylor Swift sashayed out in striped boater shirt and shorts for her chart-topper, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” climaxing the show by jumping into the audience for a little impromptu crowd-surfing.

The evening’s only water-cooler worthy moment was, predictably, a kiss, this one between Rihanna and estranged boyfriend Chris Brown.

Otherwise, it was business as usual, with presenters including Katy Perry, Emma Watson, Mac Miller, The Wanted, Wiz Khalifa, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Andy Samberg, Rashida Jones, Ke$ha, Tyler, the Crfeator, Rita Ora, Dwight Howard, Rebel Wilson, Zoe Saldana and Korean K-pop viral sensation PSY, whose own clip, “Gangnam Style,” is at #1 and #3 on the iTunes vid chart.

Other winners included Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” (Best Female Video), Coldplay’s “Paradise” (Best Rock Video), Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper” (Best Video with a Message), Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake (Best Art Direction), Beyonce’s “Countdown” (Best Editing) and Skrillex’s “First of the Year (Equinox)” (Best Visual Effects).

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