Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry performed at the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday night amidst a slew of other top artists including Kanye West, Justin Timberlake, Drake and Lady Gaga. But their respective moments on the stage caught the attention of viewers — and those following along on social media — in a way that even a reunion of the beloved boy band *NSync couldn’t touch.

Cyrus’s appearance has been at the top of headlines for days, and the basis of discussions circulating the Internet on the issue of proper decorum in an entertainment sphere, says opinion writer Kathleen Parker:

The usual critiques have included mockery of the right wing, which apparently includes anyone who cares about the culture we’re providing our children. But other commentary makes one hopeful that we may be experiencing a broader desire for greater decorum. Call it postmodern prudery.

This is possibly a false hope, I concede, but there’s some basis for imagining that the pendulum might find its way back toward civilization’s center. Even by the dubious standards of MTV, Cyrus’s performance was widely considered over the top. Or should we say, under the bottom? At a reported rate of 300,000 tweets per minute during the broadcast, viewers tweeted reactions that included shock and outrage. Not all, obviously, but enough to suggest a tipping point in America’s slow decline into prurient voyeurism.

Singer Lance Bass, who joined his former four bandmates on stage for *NSync’s brief reunion, also shared his opnion about the shock-and-awe of Cyrus’ performance, according to the Associated Press:

The singer said his young nieces and nephews watched the VMAs for the first time to see their uncle perform in ‘N Sync.

“I didn’t know I had to warn them that their little Hannah Montana was going to be naked and humping a finger,” Bass said.

During a commercial break, he spoke more of the incident.

“I think it’s her thing. I think she shocked a lot of her younger fans, especially the parents, who might not be so happy with her thing, and she’s just being Miley,” Bass said.

“I mean it is a big deal. Unfortunately I think young artists, especially coming from a Disney background, especially want to change that image. ... Lady Gaga does it. Everyone is like what can I do just to really shock people. But Lady Gaga and a lot of people have really missed the mark a lot where it goes over people’s heads.”

Not all viewers were dismayed by the showing. Columnist Clinton Yates makes the case that the public is judging Cyrus for the exact thing audiences should want from her, and that is to be true to herself.

It seems that we still can’t handle what it’s like for a young woman to be able to perform, as she chooses, without layering in a heavy helping of insults as well. While Cyrus was condemned for grinding on Thicke, very little criticism has been laid on the singer himself for his role in the performance. The nastiest of the comments have implied that Cyrus is somehow diseased because of her preferred dance methods.

Add to this the fact that some people feel she is appropriating a certain amount of black culture without proper license and you’ve got a cauldron of ignorance and discrimination that even in 2013 is widely regarded as understandable, if not sensible. It is not.

When the white, 20-year-old, former child star and daughter of a country singer goes on stage and does something that the so-called ruling classes deem unseemly, it starts a firestorm. When scores of young women across the globe take the stage to express themselves in exactly the same way at an EDM concert by Diplo, and plaster their exploits all over social networks, no one bats an eye.

In the wake of Cyrus’s on-stage moments, Perry’s closing set felt tame, despite the high-energy movements, says critic Allison Stewart:

After a surprise Video of the Year win for Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” (his only award of the night, out of six nominations), Katy Perry closed the show from a separate stage set up underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. She performing “Roar” in a mock boxing ring, in full fighter regalia, complete with a corner man and a spit bucket. It was gold-plated, of course.

Stewart says Perry was one of the more technically impressive of hte night:

Katy Perry’s mid song jump-rope routine was probably harder than it looked. Perry’s entire performance was assured and impressive, but mostly unheralded. It would have made for a great opener.

Stewart also awarded her most dedicated:

Greatest dedication to her craft: Katy Perry, who wore the evening’s dorkiest outfit (an unflattering pair of boxing shorts, and braids), spit into a spit bucket (it was made of gold, you guys), and still managed to seem awesome in ways she previously had not.

More on the VMAs:

Deep thoughts about Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance

Robin Thicke, Daft Punk and other VMA highlights and lowlights

Miley Cyrus and the issues of slut-shaming and racial condescension

Possible explanations for Miley Cyrus’s VMAs performance

2013 MTV VMAs: Katy Perry closes show under the Brooklyn Bridge

Smith family reactions, Taylor Swift: 11 VMAs moments you may have missed