It stopped just short of a British invasion, but the hunky teens in the boy band won three awards on Thursday night's show and barged in on Rihanna's party.
Rihanna kicked off things with a spicy performance to open Thursday night's show, then ended it by taking the show's top honor, video of the year, for her steamy hit "We Found Love."
"Doesn't my girl Rihanna look sexy tonight?" Katy Perry asked the crowd after the performance.
And the night's lead nominee did, showing up in a pixie cut and a figure-hugging, elegant scoop-backed white dress before changing into a flowing red outfit for her medley of new single "Cockiness (I Love It)" with rapper A$AP Rocky and "We Found Love." She brushed imaginary dust from her shoulder as she walked to the stage to thank fans and her creative team.
The camera returned to the pop star often -- except when it was on One Direction, which provided the night's most screamed-over performance. The band won best pop video, best new artist and most share-worthy video.
"We've grown up watching this show and to even be here is an honor," Niall Horan said from the stage.
The quintet, put together by Simon Cowell after "The X Factor" auditions and the first British act to debut atop the Billboard 200 album chart, seemed stunned as fans screamed upon announcement of their win.
The group performed later, rising to a stairwell surrounded by screaming, reaching female fans on an elevated platform and bringing most attendees to their feet. Members of the U.S. gymnastics team sang along to their song "One Thing" and cameras caught Perry and Rihanna whispering to each other.
"This has been unbelievable," Harry Styles said backstage. "This was our favorite performance we've ever done. For us to be here in the first place is amazing, and to perform and win a Moonman is amazing."
While there was no easily identifiable signature moment early on, there were a few interesting sights. Pink floated above the crowd on a pair of oversized lips as she performed her new song "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" before Frank Ocean wowed with a somber, moonlit version of his song "Thinking About You." Then there was Olympic champion Gabby Douglas flipping on stage to new Alicia Keys song "Girl on Fire," and Taylor Swift dove into the crowd after a group sing-a-long of her new hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together."
Chris Brown pulled off something of an upset in the best male video category. Rihanna's former boyfriend won for his self-directed video "Turn Up The Music," beating out several top stars, including Drake, who tied Rihanna for most nominations with five. Brown also won for best cinematography. M.I.A. was the night's only other multiple winner, taking two off-camera awards for direction and cinematography.
Drake won best hip-hop video for "HYFR," which featured Lil Wayne. He talked about his black and Jewish roots growing up in Toronto and his sometimes outsider status.
"I want to dedicate this award to any kid that's ever had a long walk home by yourself," Drake said. "This is for you, man, for real. We made it."
Host Kevin Hart, who promised no one would be spared his comedic barbs, opened up old wounds between Brown and Drake in his opening monologue, spoofing the two for the bar brawl that took place between their entourages in June.
Drake and friends Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne sat stone-faced as Hart joked: "Nip it in the bud, guys. I'm tired of it. Fix it tonight."
Minaj, dressed in a skintight full-body outfit, won best female video for "Starships." Coldplay took best rock video for "Paradise." And Calvin Harris -- the show's house DJ who's featured on "We Found Love"-- won the first best electronic dance music award for "Feel So Close." Beyonce, Perry, Skrillex and Demi Lovato won awards not televised on the show.
MTV tried something new this year, unveiling a double-decker red carpet that featured two stories of stars and celebrities. Thousands of fans lined up outside the show's new home, the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In a bit of foreshadowing, One Direction drew the loudest cheers of the day -- something even rivals The Wanted acknowledged -- even though fans had to labor under a scorching sun with the temperature at 90 degrees.
The sun was especially hot for Amber Rose, who accentuated her pregnant belly with a black lace gown as she and fiance Wiz Khalifa showed off a baby bump.
"I'm hot, and my feet hurt, but I look gorgeous," Rose said.
While touching, the moment didn't rise to the level of The Baby Bump -- when Beyonce showed her unannounced pregnancy on the red carpet last year -- Taylor vs. Kanye or The Kiss.
Lil Wayne had one of the night's most tweeted performances when he debuted his heavily bleeped new song "No Worries." And Keys, who debuted "Girl on Fire," drew attention well before she took the stage. The singer and her producer husband Swizz Beatz were spotted with their almost 2-year-old son, Egypt, bobbing up and down on Beatz' lap during Pink's expletive-laden performance of "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)."
There was hubbub on Twitter where several of Keys' fans noted the bawdy nature of the VMAs. Others just thought Egypt was cute.