INGLEWOOD, Calif., Aug 24 (Reuters) - With some twerking and shaking, the leading ladies of pop music dominated the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday as raunchy performances opened the show, while Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran took home the first Moonman awards.
Miley Cyrus, who set tongues wagging last year with her raunchy "twerking" during her VMAs performance, said on the red carpet this year that she "retired" her grinding explicit dance moves, adding "It's not about twerking, it's about the music."
But while Cyrus has retired the twerk, rapper Nicki Minaj brought her rump-grinding to kick off the show with hip hop song "Anaconda," scantily-clad and twerking against a jungle-themed backdrop.
Since launching in 1984, Viacom-owned MTV's VMAs have become synonymous with irreverence and unscripted moments that have become part of music history. While Beyonce and Iggy Azalea lead the nominees with eight nods each on Sunday, all eyes were on whoever delivered the most outrageous planned or unplanned stunt.
Pop singer Ariana Grande led a dance-filled rendition of "Break Free" on an outer space-themed stage, before joining Minaj and British singer Jessie J for "Bang Bang."
"I liked it, there were a lot of body parts everywhere," Sheeran said backstage about the opening performance.
Taylor Swift debuted her upbeat first single "Shake It Off" from her upcoming pop album "1989," dressed in a sequined crop top and shorts and surrounded by men in tuxedos.
In stark comparison to the over-the-top performances by the ladies of pop on the VMAs stage, British newcomer Sam Smith used a bare set to showcase his voice on his hit "Stay With Me."
Early winners of the fan-voted Moonman awards included Perry - dressed in a denim dress as a throwback to Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake's American Music Awards denim outfits in 2001 - for the Cleopatra-themed music video for "Dark Horse."
"We put a lot of time, effort and hard work into this song," Perry said, thanking her fans, known as the "Katy kats."
Sheeran picked up the best male video Moonman for "Sing," Lorde won best rock video for her breakout indie hit "Royals," and Grande won best pop video for "Problem" featuring Iggy Azalea.
Grande, 21, who will be releasing her latest album "My Everything" in conjunction with the VMAs, thanked MTV "for supporting my music."
Amid all the playfulness, rapper Common took a moment to pay tribute to the people of Ferguson, Missouri, who have taken to the streets over the past week protesting the shooting of 18-year-old black youth Michael Brown by a police officer. Common concluded by telling people to "spread love."
Sunday's awards ceremony was overshadowed by violence at an unofficial pre-VMA party at a Los Angeles nightclub, where three people including hip hop mogul Suge Knight were shot and wounded. MTV said it had no affiliation with the event.
Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jeremy Laurence