LAS VEGAS -- On the Billboard stage, there’s not much room for surprises, at least not where the awards are concerned. This is a ceremony dictated by radio, sales, streaming and fan voting. So it should be expected that Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber would reign heavily over Sunday’s telecast.
And they did. Swift walked away with an impressive eight trophies (she was up for 11) and delivered a showstopping performance, and Bieber hit the stage twice in between collecting a handful of awards, including top male artist.
But the adoration for Bieber proved temporary when the singer went to accept one of the night’s biggest honors, the Milestone Award.
PHOTOS: Billboard Music Awards 2013 | Arrivals
The fan-voted award, a new entry this year, is for musical ingenuity and innovation. Shortly after it was announced the 19-year-old beat out Swift and Bruno Mars, thunderous boos echoed throughout MGM Grand Garden Arena.
"I'm 19 years old. I think I'm doing a pretty good job," Bieber said amid booming jeers. His fans struggled to drown out the backlash -- though he got a swath of audience support when he name-dropped Jesus Christ in his speech.
"Basically from my heart I really just want to say it really should be about the music. It should be about the craft that I'm making," he continued. "This is not a gimmick and I'm an artist and I should be taken seriously. And all this other bull should not be spoken of."
It's not clear where the backlash came from. It could be a culmination of months of bad press around his personal life or beating out a more revered act like Bruno Mars, who went home empty-handed.
It was a curiously tense moment during the three-hour telecast.
PHOTOS: Billboard Music Awards 2013 | Show highlights
Swift’s massive fourth effort, "Red," stole the night and helped the country-pop queen easily score multiple wins, including the night's top honor, artist of the year.
Other major wins included Gotye's ubiquitous break-up anthem, "Somebody That I Used To Know," stealing four major races, Rihanna delivering a clean sweep of the four R&B categories, Madonna taking the top touring award and Prince being feted with the Icon Award.
But thousands didn’t brave the revelry of the Vegas Strip to cram the MGM for the trophies. Like the American Music Awards, BET Awards and MTV Video Music Awards, the statuettes that are handed out don’t quite matter at all.
The pre-show chatter in the arena wasn’t about who would take what award --fans only need to turn on the radio or peek at Soundscan for those answers -- the buzz was who people were most excited to see and what acts would perform.
"It’s basically an exclusive concert," one attendee told his friends before the show.
Those performances – there were 17 of them – are what made for the best “OMG” water cooler fodder, aside from Bieber backlash, surely to provide the Internet a boon of GIFS and memes.
Among the night’s highlights?
Nicki Minaj giving Lil Wayne a racy lap dance, Jennifer Lopez’s high-octane choreography, Bruno Mars and Miguel offering near-perfect showmanship (Miguel’s set was instantly viral after the R&B breakout landed hard on a pair of fans during a stage leap), and Ed Sheeran managing to bring the arena to a hush with an acoustic set.
If that wasn't enough action, Prince dropped in to close the show -- and school the kids on how it’s really done.