NEW YORK — Suddenly, the MTV Video Music Awards are all about Justin Timberlake.
Timberlake took over the awards Sunday night, wrestling the spotlight away from a rehabilitated Lady Gaga, an X-rated Miley Cyrus and a vengeful Taylor Swift with a medley of hits and the rumored reunion with former bandmates from 'NSync.
Timberlake — the night's top nominee with early leader Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — also was given the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award by Jimmy Fallon.
"I don't deserve the award, but I'm not going to give it back," Timberlake said. "I'm taking this home."
Timberlake, who won Video of the Year with Mirrors, powered through a breathless series of solo hits before the other four members of 'NSync — JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Joey Fatone and Lance Bass — joined him on stage, opening with Bye Bye Bye.
"Half of the moonmen I've ever won, I won with those four guys right there," Timberlake said pointing at his former bandmates while holding the Vanguard trophy. "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."
Until then, the ladies of pop music dominated as Cyrus became the rare artist to upstage Lady Gaga. But Swift managed to take the spotlight from both after appearing to utter an expletive when One Direction and rumored former love interest Harry Styles appeared at Sunday night's award show — a moment that lit up Twitter and was memorialized immediately in a GIF online.
She also thanked a former beau for helping her win another moonman trophy for I Knew You Were Trouble in the best female video category.
"I also want to thank the person who inspired this song, who knows exactly who he is, because I got one of these," Swift said. "Thank you so much!"
Gaga changed costumes four times during her first return to the stage since hip surgery as she performed her new single Applause at the top of the show. It was a predictably unpredictable appearance for Gaga, who opened the song in a white nun's habit and square headdress but finished wearing a thong bikini decorated in shells and a long blonde wig.
Cyrus immediately kicked things up well beyond provocative, however, as she gyrated to her song We Can't Stop, changed into a nude bikini, ran a fan's foam finger along her privates as Robin Thicke appeared on stage to perform Blurred Lines, then gave the singer a lap dance.