Spears Sweeps, Brand Bashes Bush at VMAs

They wanted a blowout performance. She gave them a semi-funny skit and a first-class teleprompter read. Still, she picked up three awards.

Britney Spears' opening of MTV's Video Music Awards, one of the most anticipated television events of the season, fell flatter than her 2002 movie, "Crossroads."

The show began with a skit starring Spears and "Superbad" star Jonah Hill. The premise: Hill is hanging out in Spears' dressing room, tasked with taming the nerves of the troubled pop star, who fumbled her performance of "Gimme More" at the VMAs last year.

A picture of Britney Spears at the MTV Video Music Awards.Play

But instead of teaching her tantric breathing techniques, Hill asked Spears to close her eyes and moved in to make out with her, multiple times. Her response: An unconvincing "What is your deal?!" and "We definitely never have nor never will make out."

From there, the cameras cut to Spears, clad in a silver, sequined mini-dress, exiting her dressing room and strutting to the VMA's stage on Los Angeles' Paramount lot, where the crowd rose out of their seats to greet her. The 1998 hit that made her famous, "Baby One More Time," blasted in the background.

And as fast as it began, it was over. She stepped up to the stage, clutched the microphone, kept her eyes glued to the teleprompter, thanked the audience, announced she'd be helping the VMAs celebrate its 25th birthday, and skipped off stage:

"Thank you so much. Thank you for all the love. I'm here tonight to celebrate a very important birthday, the 25th anniversary of the VMAs. This is the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards and it starts right now."

Granted, Spears looked better than she has in recent months. And while it wasn't the disaster critics agreed her 2007 performance was, Spears didn't rise to the occasion this year either.

After the VMAs' innaugural performance by Rihanna (as predicted, Spears did not sing), Spears scored the first award of the evening -- and her first ever VMA, after 16 nominations -- best female video for "Piece of Me." Her acceptance speech, in which she dedicated the award to her fans, was as short and saccharine as her opening of the show.

Later in the evening, Spears scored two more awards: Best pop video and video of the year, both for "Piece of Me."

"Wow, thank you, I'm shocked right now, I was not expecting this," she said, accepting the video of the year "Moonman."

VMA Highlights

Besides Spears, noteworthy VMA moments included host Russell Brand's brand of British humor, which elicited chuckles and a few looks of shock from the VMA crowd. Attempting to appeal to his first major American audience, he cracked on the current president (He called George Bush a "retard and cowboy fella" and added, "In England, George Bush won't be trusted with a pair of scissors") and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's pregnant teenage daughter.

He went on to make fun of the Jonas Brothers, the boy band of the moment, calling their promise rings and pledge to stay virgins until marriage ungrateful, considering the legions of teen fans they could bed.

Fresh off his record-breaking performance at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps visited the VMAs to introduce record-breaking (and his professed favorite) rapper Lil Wayne, who sold a million copies of "Tha Carter III" in one week earlier this year, making the album the first studio offering since 50 Cent's 2005 "The Massacre" to sell more than a million copies in a single week.

After rapping his hit "Got Money" with T Pain, Lil Wayne returned to rock the stage with Kid Rock, performing "All Summer Long."

Rapper T.I. returned to the awards show stage after his arrest at 2007's BET awards, where he was accused of attempting to buy machine guns and silencers. In March, he was sentenced to serve time in prison for that offense, after completing at least 1,000 hours of community service.

Kanye West closed the show with a crowd-rousing performance of his new song, "Love Lockdown." West, like Spears, revisited the VMAs after a headline-making fiasco at last year's ceremony, in which he went ballistic backstage after not scoring a Moonman despite scores of nominations for his latest album, "Graduation." If she returned with a whimper, he came back with a bang.

Last year, 7.1 million MTV viewers watched the festivities, according to Nielsen Media Research. Viewership was up from 5.8 million the year before, according to Reuters, but the numbers were a far cry from the record 12 million viewers for the 1999 version.