Britney Spears tried to do it again. She failed miserably.
Only six years ago, at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards, the pop star caused a national sensation when she strutted across the stage crooning "I'm a Slave 4 U," a larger-than-life snake slithering above her taut abs.
At last night's VMAs, Spears also made jaws drop, but for entirely different reasons.
Kicking off the Las Vegas show with her new single, "Gimmie More," Spears appeared be acting out the classic nightmare of arriving at a party and realizing you're naked while people point and laugh. She seemed to sleepwalk through her routine, flailing her arms and failing to synch her lips with the subpar dance ditty blasting through the speakers. Her sequined bra/panty costume confirmed that like her former pop-star magnetism, those abs of yore are now just a memory.
What exactly went wrong? According to entertainment show "Extra," reports speculate that Spears' original act, inspired by illusionist Criss Angel, was nixed by MTV before the show. "In the initial meetings that we had, I gave my professional creative advice ... but I stepped out of the picture ... it's going to be interesting to see if they took my advice," Angel told "Extra" in anticipation of the performance.
Spears was a sad sight, but considering her personal and professional trials over the past year, that might have been expected.
She checked in and out of rehab twice. She shaved her head bald in an apparent breakdown. She divorced Kevin Federline. And she split from the manager and handlers who made her a star, which was a huge mistake, according to Hollywood agent Marc Bass.
"I think she probably should get a whole new team around her," he said. "She should've never been up there in her underwear."
Some critics say Spears' lack of handlers is no excuse for her abysmal performance. In an "open letter" to Spears posted on his Web site, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton lashed out at the pop star, calling her act "disrespectful" to her remaining fans and MTV.
Celebrity publicist Michael Levine thinks Spears' bad performance can be blamed on the fact that she's surrounded herself with sycophants, personally and professionally. Unlike most people whose friends and family will tell them if they shouldn't be shimmying in front of an audience of millions in their underwear, Spears has no one in her life to say, "No."
"What megacelebrities do is they go into their internal house and they disconnect their internal smoke alarm. So instead of someone saying 'Britney, you look like a moron,' or, 'You're too heavy,' they say, 'You're great!'" he said. "And that's the issue. She's out of reality."
Will the fallout from her VMA performance finally get Spears back on the path to respectable pop stardom? Gemma Puglisi, a PR specialist at American University, hopes so.
"Some people say bad publicity isn't bad, that it gets the buzz out there. But these are some serious issues," Puglisi said. "It's just getting worse and worse."
But if the amount of buzz around office water coolers and the Internet means anything, it's that Spears still gets people talking. And as long as that's true, Levine thinks she'll be able to get by just fine.
"Of course I'd hire her," he said. "As long as she'll make money, people will hire her. And she's still enough of a car crash right now to be hire-able."
And it seems that Spears' performance didn't leave all VMA viewers with the same feeling of disgust. Weighing in on a story about Spears and her subpar routine, ABCNEWS.com commenter wheaton1006 remarked, "I'd hit it."
Hollywood agent Bass believes that if Spears can get her act together and capitalize on those who still think she's hot, she can stage a real comeback.
"Where does Britney go from here? I think she's got to do what she does best and put out a hit song," he said. "Talent never dies, it may go sleep for a while, but it doesn't die."