The MTV Video Music Awards salute filmed performances but Sunday's show was crammed with live music. Most of the artists opted not to compete with their more cinematic approaches to songs that had earned them nominations.
Lady Gaga opened the kudocast, dressed in male drag, calling herself Joe Caldarone and singing "You and I." Brian Mays of Queen added some guitar solos to the staging.
Kanye West and Jay Z made an unnannounced appearance and sang a low-key version of "Otis," a track from their new No. 1 album "Watch the Throne."
Pitbull was up next and performed the two-time nominee "Give Me Everything" with his collaborators Ne-Yo and Nayer.
Adele, whose video for "Rolling in the Deep" claimed four creative awards, sang a simple, soulful version of her new hit single "Someone Like You."
In stark contrast, Chris Brown took center stage for an elaborate production number of "Beautiful People" which featured lots of aerial acts and acrobatics.
The newly infanticipating Beyonce dazzled in a sparkly tux jacket as she performed the R&B hit "Love on Top." She ended the song by rubbing her stomach as her husband Jay-Z beamed in the audience.
Rockers Young the Giant blasted out "My Body" before Bruno Mars sang "Valerie" in tribute to the late Amy Winehouse who had duetted on the tune with Mark Ronson.
And Lil Wayne closed the show with "How to Love."