By Jake Perlman
Updated November 25, 2013 at 06:59 AM EST
Credit: Greg Watermann/Pitbull Productions, Inc

The night started with a gallop, as we saw Lady Gaga make the type of grand entrance onto the red carpet we’ve come to expect — this time by riding a white “horse.” But then we headed inside the packed Nokia Theatre, where things only got crazier.

Before the ABC telecast began, executive producer Larry Klein welcomed the audience to what he called “the biggest music party of the year.”

Katy Perry opened the show with a Geisha-themed performance of her new song “Unconditionally,” with a cascade of flower petals falling on the stage towards the end. The only problem was that the petals continued to fall throughout the show, even briefly interrupting One Direction and Ariana Grande’s performances.

After winning the first of three awards, Justin Timberlake ran through the audience, giving out high fives to fans before hugging R. Kelly on his way to the stage.

One Direction took home two televised awards tonight, but you would think the whole show was dedicated to them based on the young girls screaming every time the word “direction” was said or any member of the group was shown on the big screen. Young fans in the audience were shrieking hroughout the night, trying to get the attention of their idols during commercial breaks. Two girls in particular in the balcony got so loud that Taylor Swift finally stood up and waved to them. Katy Perry didn’t, even though the girls were very specific (KATY!! UP HERE!! TO YOUR RIGHT!! FARTHER!! NOT THAT FAR!!!)

Ariana Grande wowed the audience with her powerful vocal performance, then jumped up and down with joy and hugged all four of her back up singers. Grande’s tight dress made it a struggle to get up the stairs to accept her New Artist award (and led to her giving possibly the fastest acceptance speech in award-show history). The former Nickelodeon star was also spotted talking to Fall Out Boy in the audience and taking pictures with fans.

Rihanna’s mother gave a heartfelt speech for her daughter, which was slightly interrupted by the sounds of the hard-working backstage crew getting the very large orchestra from Rihanna’s performance off the stage. Clips of memorable past AMAs performances played throughout commercial breaks and after Rihanna accepted her icon award, a clip played of her performing “Umbrella” at the AMAs with another very large orchestra… sounds familiar!

Pitbull “hosted” the awards, but he didn’t really do much beyond introduce the show and perform in a splashy AMAs number to showcase a specific artist. This year the honoree was Ke$ha, and we were reminded during one commercial break of similar outings featuring Marc Anthony and Christina Aguilera from years past.

The night ended with Miley Cyrus, a day after turning 21, purrforming “Wrecking Ball” with a giant computer cat behind her singing along while dressed in a risqué cat printed outfit. It was bizarre, yet it was also simple and powerful and played well in the big crowd. And once everyone stopped looking at her legs, we realized Miley can sing, too.