The provocative pop singer was the hot topic at Sunday night's show: Cyrus eclipsed Lady Gaga's opening performance of her new single, Katy Perry's closing rendition of her latest hit and Kanye West's artsy set. The 20-year-old even grabbed more attention than Justin Timberlake's performance with his 'N Sync band mates.
Cyrus twerked and gyrated, stripped and swayed. She sang, too.
She had a helper at the VMAs: Robin Thicke. After performing her edgy hit, "We Can't Stop," she stripped off her outfit to reveal a nude bikini. She sang the first verse of Thicke's "Blurred Lines," then grinded on the R&B singer and made suggestive moves with a foam hand. The wild child also slapped a girl's butt onstage.
It was an eye-popping performance, and a photo of actor Will Smith and his family reacting to it from the audience quickly went viral. Son Jaden had a furrowed brow and a pained look on his face, daughter Willow's eyes and mouth were wide open in amazement and dad Will looked like he was shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
Within hours, the Buzzfeed site was posting the "15 Weirdest and Craziest Moments" from Cyrus' performance, which was aired live from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Amazing. I thought it was awesome," fellow former child star Selena Gomez said backstage of Cyrus' performance. "I love Robin Thicke, too, so I like that they collabo'd."
Artist to watch winner Austin Mahone also seemed to enjoy the performance: "I thought it was pretty creative. I thought it was pretty cool."
Brooke Shields, who played Cyrus' mom in a few episodes of "Hannah Montana" on the Disney Channel, took note of that on the "Today" show Monday: "I was Hannah Montana's mom! Where did I go wrong?"
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," co-host Mika Brzezinski said the performance was "disgusting and embarrassing," and that people involved should be ashamed.
Twitter said early Monday that Cyrus was mentioned 4.5 million times on the social network site, ahead of Timberlake's 2.9 million mentions. Cyrus and Thicke's performance led in tweets per minute peaks with 306,100.
Though they were attention grabbers and nominated for four moonmen each, Thicke and Cyrus walked away empty handed Sunday night.
Timberlake earned three awards, including video of the year and best male video for "Mirrors." Days ahead of the VMAs, his rumored reunion with 'N Sync dominated headlines, and he and his former band mates delivered at the awards show.
As Timberlake performed a medley of his solo hits, JC Chasez, Lance Bass, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick emerged from the bottom of the stage in suits to sing some lines from their hits "Girlfriend" and "Bye, Bye, Bye." Gomez, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and possibly the entire venue were giddy as the boy band danced like they did a decade ago. Even rappers Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J admitted on the red carpet they were excited to see 'N Sync hit the stage.
"Half of the moonmen I've ever won, I won with those four guys right there," Timberlake said of his band mates when he accepted the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award. "So above all else, I'm going to share this - we can keep it my house - but I'm going to share this award with them."
Cyrus wasn't the only pop singer with edge at the VMAs: Swift also turned heads. The 23-year-old, who won best female video, appeared to utter an expletive to Gomez when Swift's rumored ex, One Direction member Harry Styles, was onstage. The boy band also earned boos when it won best song of the summer for "Best Song Ever," beating out Gomez, Thicke, Cyrus, Daft Punk and Calvin Harris.
Rapper A$AP Rocky also provided an awkward moment Sunday when standing next to NBA player Jason Collins, who were both announcing Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' performance. Collins, who recently said he was gay, spoke about coming out as A$AP Rocky looked uncomfortable.
"The next artist is a good friend of mine and he stands up for everything he believes in as far as everybody being equal, color, homosexuality," the rapper said as he pointed to Collins in another awkward moment.
But that was followed with touching performance of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' same-sex anthem "Same Love." It featured the song's original vocalist, Mary Lambert, as well as Jennifer Hudson. The video won best video with a social message, while their hit "Can't Hold Us" won best hip-hop video and best cinematography.
"I never dreamt I would be on a stage accepting an award, any of the awards, in particular for that song," Macklemore said of "Same Love" backstage. "It's much bigger than the music. It's equality, so that was the most special for me tonight, but all of them were incredible."
Bruno Mars, who won best male video and choreography for "Treasure," twirled with his two moonmen backstage, while Gomez admitted she thought Thicke's "Blurred Lines" should have won best pop video instead of her seductive "Come & Get It."
Lady Gaga kicked off the awards show in a less dramatic fashion compared to her past performances. She did change her clothes - and hair - various times onstage while dancing and singing her new hit "Applause." She finished in a thong, revealing her toned body.
Katy Perry closed the VMAs under the Brooklyn bridge in a boxing ring, singing her smash hit "Roar."