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Snake bites and stage tumbles behind them, it was a relatively tame night for artists at the MTV Video Music Awards. But what Sunday's show may have lacked in teddy bears and foam fingers, it made up in Blue Ivy Carter and booty-ful performances:

Leave it to Miley. Talk about an about-face from last year, huh? The crowd erupted in cheers when Jimmy Fallon called Miley Cyrus' name for video of the year (for last year's instant viral smash Wrecking Ball). But Cyrus opted not to give the typical, gushing acceptance speech we've come to expect from winners – instead allowing a self-identified runaway and homeless man named Jesse to take the stage and raise awareness for homeless youth, directing viewers to Miley's Facebook page to learn more. Say what you want about the tongue-wagging face that launched a thousand think-pieces, but she sure knows how to be a class act (and cry on cue) when the occasion calls for it.

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A family affair. Who here still doubts Beyoncé as an unstoppable force? Anyone? It was near impossible not to be in awe as the powerhouse performer worked her way through an album's-worth of songs, performing a medley of her self-titled release that surprised the world last December. Queen Bey easily made the switch from tantalizing to tearful throughout the VMAs' grand finale, but it was daughterBlue Ivy who truly stole the show – sitting in Jay Z's arms, busting out her mom's signature moves during Flawless and clapping her hands during Beyoncé's acceptance speech. If there's trouble in paradise between Bey and Jay, they certainly didn't show it on the Forum stage Sunday night.

WINNER'S LIST:The 2014 MTV VMAs: The winners, nominees

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TRIBUTE: Common honors Michael Brown during VMAs

It was Nicki's night. Miley and Bey may have made the VMAs' last half hour unforgettable, but up until that point, we couldn't get Nicki Minaj off our minds or TV screens. She opened the show with a sexy, scaly, barely kid-friendly performance ofAnaconda, before successfully navigating her way through a wardrobe malfunctionduring a roof-raising rendition of Bang Bang with Ariana Grande and Jessie J. And just when we'd thought we'd seen the last of her, she made yet another appearance during Usher's She Came to Give It to You, getting a spank and some awkward shoulder action from the R&B star as he played electric guitar.

Yes, we'll Stay with Sam. Nearly six months after his introduction to America onSaturday Night Live, Sam Smith arrived at the VMAs a bona fide star. Delivering a pitch-perfect rendition of summer smash Stay With Me, the crowd went wild for the soulful crooner (especially J.Lo, judging by her very enthusiastic seat-dancing). But it wasn't an all-around good night for the British singer (although sitting with Katy Perry looked like an awful lot of fun): He lost artist-to-watch to girl group Fifth Harmony, who unexpectedly beat out other beloved nominees 5 Seconds of Summer, Charli XCX and Schoolboy Q.

Music with a message. Before announcing the nominees and winner (Drake, Hold On, We're Going Home) of the hip-hop video award, Common took a stand for the protesters in Ferguson, Mo. "The people in Ferguson and St. Louis and communities across the country have used their voices to call for justice and change to let everyone know that each and every one of our lives matters," he said. "Hip-hop has always been about truth and has been a powerful instrument of social change," noting artists such as Public Enemy and Kendrick Lamar. The rapper then led a moment of silence for "Mike Brown and for peace in this country and in the world," leaving the stage with the simple instruction to "Spread love, y'all."

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