Lady Gaga led this year's MTV VMAs, winning five awards, while BTS and Ariana Grande won four each and The Weeknd won video of the year.
The ceremony, filmed at several outdoor New York locations with a limited audience, was dedicated to the late Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.
It included pre-recorded speeches and performances, with Lady Gaga saying: "Love who you are. Be kind. Mask up."
Host Keke Palmer called Boseman, who died on Friday, "a true hero".
Here are some key moments from the socially-distanced show, which was broadcast on Sunday night, with the full list of winners here.
1. Lady Gaga on 'wrath' and 'rage' of art
Gaga's wins were for best artist, song, collaboration and cinematography, plus the first MTV Tricon Award - honouring her work in music, acting and fashion.
"This has not been an easy year for a lot of people, but what I see in the world is a massive triumph of courage," she said.
"Just because we're separated right now and culture may feel less alive in some ways, I know a renaissance is coming, and the wrath of pop culture will inspire you and the rage of art will empower you as it responds to hardship with its generosity and love. "
🥺 Couldn’t have received an award like this without everyone I love. Thank you for supporting and loving me. I love the world so much. https://t.co/Kfz0yepKs0— Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) August 31, 2020
Model Bella Hadid, who called Gaga a "powerhouse" as she introduced her, said: "She turns pop music into high art. She redefines fashion.. she inspires and empowers all of us."
2. MTV remembers Chadwick Boseman
Host Keke Palmer said of Chadwick Boseman: "We dedicate tonight's show to a man whose spirit touched so many. He's a true hero, not just on screen but in everything he did. His impact lives forever."
During his speech, he invited James Shaw Jr to the stage to thank him for protecting other restaurant-goers from a gunman who opened fire in a waffle house in Tennessee.
He gave Shaw his popcorn trophy and said: "This is gonna live at your house. God bless you, man."
The clip of Boseman ended with the words "rest in power".
3. The Weeknd called for justice over shootings
The Weeknd won the highly prized video of the year award for Blinding Lights, using his speech to demand justice in the cases of two African Americans shot by police.
"It's hard to celebrate, so I'm just going to say justice for Jacob Blake and justice for Breonna Taylor," he said.
Da Baby's performance echoed this, referencing the ongoing protests against police violence, and singing his song Blind while handcuffed from the back of a police car.
Palmer's opening monologue also referenced the social unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd in May.
"We can never tolerate police brutality," she said. "It's our time to be the change we want to see. We need to come together, and music has that power."
Although The Weeknd looked like he'd been beaten up, he wore make-up which replicated his look for his winning video, in which he ends up with injuries to his face.
4. Taylor Swift makes history
Taylor Swift was the first solo female artist to win best directing for her video The Man, and was only the second woman to win the award, following Melina Matsoukas for Formation by Beyonce in 2016.
The video takes aim at male music executives - in particular Scooter Braun, who purchased her back catalogue last year, and the credits stress the video was directed, produced and owned by Swift.
"I was told that this was an industry-voted award. So I want to say thank you to everyone in the industry who voted for this video," she said.
"But I also really want to thank the fans because you are the only reason why the industry cares about anything that I do."
5. Ariana Grande appeared just once
The singer won three awards for her collaboration with Lady Gaga plus one for best music video from home for Stuck on U with Justin Bieber.
But she made just a single appearance on stage, for a masked performance with Gaga. She tweeted her thanks to her for their win for song of the year, for Rain on Me.
Calling Gaga "the most gracious and stunning", she added she was "so grateful to be a part of this".
6. BTS's Dynamite gets live TV debut
The South Korean pop band won for pop video, group, K-pop and choreography and this was their first appearance at the awards, which will have delighted their legions of fans.
They performed English-language song Dynamite remotely from Seoul, dancing in front of backdrops of New York.
Their suited and booted performance ended with a display of fireworks which appeared behind them, matching their lyrics: "So I'm-a light it up like dynamite."
7. And not forgetting the best quarantine performance...
The awards acknowledged the many performances from artists during the coronavirus pandemic, for their creativity in remaining connected with their fans during lockdown. The prize went to Latino boy band CNCO - Unplugged At Home, who beat Chloe x Halle, DJ D-Nice, John Legend, Lady Gaga and Post Malone.