Justin Timberlake and Coldplay were the big winners and Missy Elliott ended her Moonmen drought at the MTV Video Music Awards Thursday, but the actual awards were overshadowed by the steamy sight of Madonna kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
In a shocking opening performance of "Like a Virgin" and "Hollywood," the three divas raised Justin Timberlake's eyebrows — and everyone else's — when they locked lips just before Missy Elliott joined the trio (see "50, Mary J., Beyonce, Metallica Overshadowed By Two Little Kisses").
Elliott, who had never won a VMA for her own work despite 17 nominations, won Video of the Year and Best Hip-Hop Video for "Work It," which came into the event with a pack-leading eight nominations. The hip-hop icon thanked Aaliyah in her acceptance of the top award, for which she brought out an enormous posse, including director Dave Meyers, producer Timbaland and her dancers.
Timberlake and Coldplay each earned three trophies, two better than Johnny Cash, who took only one of the six categories for which he was nominated, Best Cinematography.
Although Cash was often called "the man" (or "the mother----ing man" as Snoop Dogg put it), Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" beat the tearjerker "Hurt" for Best Male Video. The 'NSYNC star also won Best Pop Video and Best Dance Video.
"I want a recount," Timberlake said. "My grandfather raised me on Johnny Cash, I'm from Tennessee ... I guess I share this with him in some cool way. He deserves a round of applause." (To learn more about the infamous Man in Black, check out Kurt Loder's "Johnny Cash: Original Gangsta").
Coldplay, who dedicated their performance of "The Scientist" to Cash (the only other tribute to the legendary crooner during the show), batted a thousand with wins for Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video and Best Direction for "The Scientist."
Other multiple winners included Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love," for Best R&B Video and Best Choreography, and 50 Cent's "In Da Club," for Best New Artist and Best Rap Video.
Chris Rock received a warm welcome in his return to the VMA stage and proceeded to lash out with jokes aimed at everyone from P. Diddy (for "teaching the kids wrong from wronger") to Paula Abdul (for judging singers, "which is like Christopher Reeve judging a dance contest") in perhaps his most harsh opening monologue ever. (Click for photos from the top moments from the show.)
Rock continued to win many exclamations of "Damn!" from the crowd with his infamous introductions of presenters, beginning with LeBron James and Ashanti: "He's trying to be the next Kobe Bryant and she's trying not to be the next victim."
In the coveted Viewer's Choice Award, Good Charlotte, whose Benji Madden faced the challenge of following the sexy opening spectacle by kissing bassist Paul, appeared visually moved when accepting for "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." The award made up for their loss to Linkin Park's "Somewhere I Belong" for Best Rock Video.
Eminem won Best Video From a Film for the "8 Mile" anthem "Lose Yourself," but lost two others to 50 Cent. The mentor and protégé made light of their competition, however, by joining each other at the podium for their acceptance speeches.
The Detroit rapper appeared in a much better mood this year, even joking about his assault of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog last year before his introduction of 50 Cent's performance, which he did with another trash-talking puppet, Special Ed from "Crank Yankers."
The MTV2 Award, which is voted on by viewers, went to AFI, who gave special thanks to their fan club, the Despair Faction.
In categories announced during the pre-show, Radiohead and Queens of the Stone Age both won their first VMAs, for Best Art Direction ("There There") and Best Special Effects ("Go With the Flow"), respectively, while the White Stripes, who won three Moonmen last year and had four nominations in 2003, also won an early trophy, Best Editing for "Seven Nation Army."
Aguilera, who returned to the stage for a medley of "Dirrty," featuring Redman, and "Fighter," with Dave Navarro on guitar, lost in all four of the categories for which she was nominated. Jennifer Lopez, who had four nominations, Kelly Clarkson who had three, and double nominees Sean Paul, Evanescence, Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Nelly and No Doubt were also shut out.
There was no Michael Jackson surprise at the 20th VMAs, although Jack Black dressed the part when "accepting" his "Super Genius of the Universe Award." Black was one of a few surprise presenters, along with Jimmy Fallon, who did a spoof of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," and an unwelcome guest who bumrushed Snoop and Adam Sandler's hilariously-izzle presentation of Video of the Year.
The performances, capped by a Metallica covers medley that included Michael Jackson's "Beat It," were mostly about guest appearances, with 50 Cent and Method Man joining Mary J. Blige, Snoop Dogg and Don "Magic" Juan joining 50 Cent and Jay-Z joining Beyoncé.
Before the Madonna kisses had heads turning, Aguilera was doing more of the same on the red carpet, showing up looking like a hot pink flamingo in a dress made of feathers (see "The Lewd, The Plaid And The Ugly: VMA Red-Carpet Fashion Rundown" ).
Other hot topics outside Radio City Music Hall were Snoop Dogg, who was accompanied by two ladies on leashes, and 50 Cent, clad in a sharp gray suit, matching hat and blinging with diamonds.
Outkast took the unofficial P. Diddy award for the best entrance, riding in on a flatbed truck, equipped with a stripper pole, that Big Boi called "the portable boom boom room."