By Thomas Escritt and Mike Davidson
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Katy Perry won the award for best female singer at the 2013 MTV EMA music awards on Sunday, pipping Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus to the post in MTV's first award ceremony since the launch a week ago of the upstart YouTube Music Awards.
But Cyrus stole the show by lighting what could have been a joint, in a nod to the host city's famously tolerant attitude towards soft drugs.
She had earlier been photographed in one of Amsterdam's best-known coffeeshops where soft drugs are on the menu.
With the three pop divas in contention, the prize for best female was the most closely watched battle at the Viacom-owned music network's 20th annual European awards ceremony.
Claiming her third EMA award, U.S. singer Perry gave a dramatic rendition of her song "Unconditionally", suspended like a sequin-covered glitter ball 9 meters (30 feet) above a gigantic outer-space-themed set.
"It's my goal to get (my music) to as many ears as possible," she said on the red carpet before the show. "If that's happening, I'm happy."
When Cyrus picked up her best video award for "Wrecking Ball", she made a show of not finding the space for the bauble in her handbag.
"You know I couldn't fit this award in my bag but I did find this," she said, pulling out a hand-rolled cigarette which she lit as she walked off the stage.
Earlier, the former Disney star, who caused a sensation with her raunchy "twerking" performance with actor Robin Thicke at the U.S.-based Video Music Awards in August, took to the red carpet in a bold mini dress on which the words "Please Stop Violence" were wrapped tightly around her hip.
British-Irish boy band One Direction had a good night, taking the prize for best pop, while Harry Styles, known as much for his singing in the band as for his celebrity girlfriends, was awarded best style.
Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto reacted to his band's winning the best alternative prize by calling for a minute of silence for those affected by typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines on Friday, killing an estimated 10,000 people. The call went largely unheeded.
"It's hard to hear in there ... but the message is what's important, to send some love and support across the world," he said backstage afterwards.
Justin Bieber held on to his best male status for a fourth consecutive year, while Beyonce and Bruno Mars won awards for best live act and best song, respectively. China's Chris Lee won best worldwide act.
U.S. rapper Eminem was given a "Global Icon" prize for lifetime achievement along with best hip-hop, just a week after being declared artist of the year at the inaugural YouTube Music Awards, run by emerging music industry rival Google.
In the face of the new competition, the MTV EMA awards are being seen as a test of the ability of MTV, one of the most prominent brands of the 1980s and 1990s, to flourish in the internet era.
Robert Bakish, head of Viacom's broadcast division, said he was confident the company would rise to the challenge.
While MTV has dominated the field with its annual pop music awards since 1984, when the Video Music Awards were launched, video-sharing site YouTube, with its one billion viewers a month, has utterly remade the popular music business.
"There's always competition, traditional competition and new competition," Bakish told Reuters on the red carpet before the show.
"The EMA is the ultimate multiplatform expression, we combine live television with digital and on Web and on mobile," he said. (Additional reporting by Sara Webb; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)