Los Angeles (CNN) -- Though Lady Gaga did not technically appear as a woman at this year's VMAs, it was ladies night nonetheless as she, Katy Perry and Adele were the big winners of the evening, each taking home three awards.
Gaga's alter-ego -- the frisky, pompadour-sporting, cigarette-smoking, beer-swilling Joe Calderone -- opened the show with a monologue and performance of Gaga's latest single "You and I" joined by a group of Calderone-clone backup dancers and a guest guitar accompaniment by Queen's Brian May.
"That was weird," comedian and pseudo-host Kevin Hart cracked when she left the stage.
But onto the awards!
To present the moonman for best pop video, Nicki Minaj and Jonah Hill had a deliberately stilted and awkward exchange in reference to Hill's dramatic weight loss and whether he could still be funny now that he's slimmed down.
VMAs queen Britney Spears won the first award of the night for "Till the World Ends" and thanked God, her babies Jayden and Preston and her current beau Jason Trawick in her acceptance speech.
We got a glimpse into some of the artists' backstage rituals through interstitial video clips. Lady Gaga's infamous egg incubator made another appearance as we were told that she was inside, hibernating.
Jay-Z and Kanye West surprised the audience with a performance of "Otis," from their latest joint album, "Watch the Throne." An audience member then had a surprise of his own and jumped on-stage before being promptly chased off.
Demi Lovato and "Glee's" Chord Overstreet presented the award for best collaboration to Katy Perry and Kanye West for "E.T." Perry cheekily said, "Now's the time you want to interrupt me, Kanye," referring to his infamous VMA moment with Taylor Swift.
Perry then changed into a sheer violet gown to introduce singer Adele's VMAs debut performance of "Someone Like You." Perry said Adele is "one of my favorite artists."
Kim Kardashian presented Justin Bieber with the best male video for "Smile." Bieber gave thanks "not only to God, but to Jesus" and shared his win with his fellow nominees.
Joe Jonas and Victoria Justice introduced Chris Brown's high-flying dance performance. He popped, locked and shimmied and shook to a medley of songs including Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." His energy literally propelled him into the air, where he levitated and flipped across the captivated audience.
Gaga's Joe Calderone then returned to the stage to introduce the tribute to "one of [her] biggest inspirations, Britney Spears." "Britney taught me how to be fearless. She taught us all how to be fearless," she said.
A troupe of dancers performed Britney's biggest hits, including "Baby One More Time," "Oops I Did It Again," "Toxic," "Slave For You" and newer hits "Hold It Against Me" and "Till the World Ends" while Britney watched from the audience before she was presented with the Michael Jackson video vanguard award.
There was almost another Britney VMA kiss when she got on stage to accept her award from Gaga/Joe. There was a sexy stare down that almost ended in a liplock, but Britney decided against it. "No, I've done that already," the singer said.
After she accepted her award, she introduced Beyonce's performance of "Love on Top." Beyonce, who had just spilled the beans on her pregnancy on the VMAs red carpet, prefaced the song by saying "I want you to feel the love that's growing inside of me" and ended by popping open her sequin jacket and rubbing her belly to a delighted and cheering crowd.
Cloris Leachman and the women of "Jersey Shore" had some technical difficulties before launching into their bit introducing the award for best female video. After a few seconds of silence, Leachman said, "I have a lot in common with the girls of "Jersey Shore." For example, no one my age knows who you guys are. And everyone your age thinks I'm Betty White."
Lady Gaga won the category for "Born This Way." Joe Calderone must have been feeling amorous (again) because he leered at Leachman before accepting the award.
Russell Brand paid tribute to his mate Amy Winehouse, who died earlier this year. "When I first met her, she was a daft, dopey person. A little bit crazy."
"But," he continued, "she was a genius. When a talent like Amy Winehouse comes along, it affects all of us." Brand named "the missus" (Katy Perry) and Adele among the singers Winehouse influenced. When the "21" singer was name-checked, she pumped her fist and gave a little whoop. Both Tony Bennett and Bruno Mars performed songs in Winehouse's honor.
In keeping with MTV's tradition of premiering clips from the hottest upcoming movies -- first "Twilight," now "The Hunger Games" -- Jennifer Lawrence appeared remotely to unveil the first look at the film based on the wildly popular young adult novels by Suzanne Collins. There wasn't much, but it captured the dystopian jungle setting and ended with Lawrence shooting a flaming arrow that morphed into the mockingjay logo.
Katie Holmes presented the final award of the night, video of the year, to Katy Perry for "Firework."
Perry, in another outfit change to a graphic black and white skirt, pink top and a yellow block on her head, accepted the award by saying, "I feel like I'm doing something right when I sing that song."
She thanked the people who contributed to her win, "and last but not least, my husband."
Finally, Drake introduced Lil Wayne, whose performance closed out this year's show. Wayne played a bit of his softie-anthem "How to Love" before tearing his shirt off and going hard with some bars of "John" to wrap up the 2011 VMAs.
Full list of winners:
Video of the year: Katy Perry, "Firework"
Best new artist: Tyler, The Creator
Best male video: Justin Bieber, "U Smile"
Best female video: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
Best hip-hop video: Nicki Minaj, "Super Bass"
Best pop video: Britney Spears, "Till The World Ends"
Best rock video: Foo Fighters, "Walk"
Best collaboration: Katy Perry feat. Kanye West, "E.T."
Best video with a message: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"
Best choreography: Beyonce, "Run The World (Girls)"
Best editing: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep"
Best special effects: Katy Perry feat. Kanye West, "E.T."
Best cinematography: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep"
Best art direction: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep"
Best direction: Adele, "Rolling In The Deep