The King of Pop and a likely successor, prince of pop Justin Timberlake, ruled the Billboard Music Awards - though Jackson made a splash via hologram and Timberlake accepted his awards via video from overseas.
A hologram of Michael Jackson made its debut, mirroring the late icon's signature slick dance moves as some members of the audience became emotional, while Timberlake won seven prizes, including top artist and Billboard 200 album, and accepted the honors outside of the country where he was on tour.
"All the other finalists, Miley, Imagine Dragons, Bruno, Katy, I love you guys, it's not a competition, but if it is, I won!" Timberlake exclaimed, dancing with his band. "I want to thank everybody on Earth, everybody on Earth, except, except Donald Sterling."
Timberlake's idol was featured in hologram form, and it performed "Slave to the Rhythm," a song from Jackson's new posthumous album Xscape, along with a plethora of background dancers, beaming lights and fire blasts. It was easily the biggest moment at the awards show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
"We tried to do as best we could what we thought Michael would have loved, and those of us who knew Michael really well, we had a good perspective on it," Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid said backstage. Reid worked on the album and released it. "But the truth is, you can't ever really know because he wasn't there."
Robin Thicke, who won four awards including top Hot 100 song for Blurred Lines, debuted a new song called Get Her Back, aiming to win over his actress-wife Paula Patton after they announced in February they were separating. He sang on bended knee and ended with the line: "I gotta get her back tonight."
"And most importantly I'd like to thank my wife for her love and support and for putting up with me all these years," Thicke said onstage when he accepted best R&B song.
The night featured a number of collaborative performances, including an explosive duet from Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, while double winner Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line were crowd favourites when they performed This Is How We Roll. Even Underwood and her hockey player-husband Mike Fisher sang along.
Miley Cyrus performed The Beatles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips remotely from the United Kingdom, where she was on tour.
"I have to of course thank all of my amazing fans. ... Thank you everybody for making this (expletive) possible - oops I'm on ABC, sorry," she said when accepting top streaming artist, sticking out her tongue at the end.
Katy Perry, who won top female artist, also performed remotely. Imagine Dragons, however, was present in Las Vegas, where the Billboard Music Awards marked a homecoming for the band. The Las Vegas-based rockers won the five honours, including top duo/group and rock artist.
"We wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for people that believed in our band, in our small band that started here in Las Vegas from the very beginning," leader Dan Reynolds told the audience. He then thanked radio, family and management for their support, adding with a yell at the end: "And Billboard!"
Lorde was a double winner, taking home trophies for best new artist and rock song for the ubiquitous hit "Royals."
"This whole thing started for me with a song that was written when I was 15, which I know everyone knows, but what I want to say is I am 17 and a half now and I'm so thankful," she said as some of the crowd laugh. "That wasn't a joke. I'm so thankful that I've had the opportunity to learn and grow as a new artist in the spotlight."
Lorde performed her new hit Tennis Court in her signature black - and showcased her signature twitchy dance moves. Other performers included John Legend, who sang his current No. 1 hit All of Me on piano, a semi-racy Ariana Grande, a sultry Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, who received the icon award and performed at the beginning and end of the three-hour show.
While musicians dominated the awards show, Kendall Jenner turned some heads when she unintentionally creating a big moment during the show. The reality star fumbled over her words - almost pulling a John Travolta - when introducing Australian pop group 5 Seconds of Summer.
"And now we welcome ... One ...," the 21-year-old said, seeming to almost say One Direction, as she put her head down.
"Guys, I'm the worst reader."
A full list of winners from the 2014 Billboard Music Awards is as follows:
Top Artist: Justin Timberlake
Top New Artist: Lorde
Top Male Artist: Justin Timberlake
Top Female Artist: Katy Perry
Top Duo/Group: Imagine Dragons
Top Billboard 200 Artist: Justin Timberlake
Top Hot 100 Artist: Imagine Dragons
Top Digital Songs Artist: Katy Perry
Top Radio Songs Artist: Justin Timberlake
Top Touring Artist: Bon Jovi
Top Social Artist: Justin Bieber
Top Streaming Artist: Miley Cyrus
Top R&B Artist: Justin Timberlake
Top Rap Artist: Eminem
Top Country Artist: Luke Bryan
Top Rock Artist: Imagine Dragons
Top Latin Artist: Marc Anthony
Top Dance/Electronic Artist: Daft Punk
Top Christian Artist: Chris Tomlin
Top Billboard 200 Album: Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Top R&B Album: Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Top Rap Album: Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Top Country Album: Luke Bryan, Crash My Party
Top Rock Album: Imagine Dragons, Night Visions
Top Latin Album: Marc Anthony, 3.0
Top Dance/Electronic Album: Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
Top Christian Album: Alan Jackson, Precious Memories: Volume II
Top Hot 100 Song: Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell, Blurred Lines
Top Digital Song: Robin Thicke, Featuring T.I. & Pharrell. Blurred Lines
Top Radio Song: Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell, Blurred Lines
Top Streaming Song (Audio): Imagine Dragons, Radioactive
Top Streaming Song (Video): Miley Cyrus, Wrecking Ball
Top R&B Song: Robin Thicke Feat. T.I. & Pharrell, Blurred Lines
Top Rap Song: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Ray Dalton, Can't Hold Us
Top Country Song: Florida Georgia Line Featuring Nelly, Cruise
Top Rock Song: Lorde, Royals
Top Latin Song: Marc Anthony, Vivir Mi Vida
Top Dance/Electronic Song: Avicii, Wake Me Up!
Top Christian Song: Matthew West, Hello, My Name Is