LOS ANGELES A year after her disastrous comeback attempt at the MTV Video Music Awards, Britney Spears swept the event on Sunday, winning the first three "Moonman" statuettes of her career.
The pop singer, whose career has been overshadowed in recent years by a litany of personal woes, took home the awards for video of the year, best pop video and best female video, all for the tune "Piece of Me."
"I'm in shock right now," the 26-year-old starlet said, after taking the stage for the third time to receive the coveted award for video of the year.
In her brief acceptance speeches, she doled out multiple thanks to God, her family and her fans.
But the 25th annual broadcast of the lifestyle cable channel's flagship bash did not begin promisingly for Spears. After weeks of speculation, the channel announced last week that Spears would open the ceremony and promised some surprises.
All she did, however, was deliver four sentences, shielding her lower face with her microphone.
"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."
The audience, primed for fireworks, barely had time to digest her perfunctory delivery before R&B singer Rihanna belted out the the first of many musical performances.
Spears inadvertently stole the show last year. Clearly unsteady and out-of-shape, she badly lip-synched a song, drawing bewildered stares from the high-wattage audience and universal derision in the messy aftermath.
But the tabloid target seems to have avoided any calamities in recent months. While she puts her life back together, her ex-husband has full custody of their two sons, and her father and a lawyer have taken control of her business affairs.
Other winners included R&B singer Chris Brown's "With You" for best male video, Linkin Park's "Shadow of the Day" for best rock video, and rapper Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" for best hip-hop video.
The show was hosted by British comedian Russell Brand, who is known for his scene-stealing turn as a lovably sleazy rock star in the romantic comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
Brand implored Americans to elect Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, and described U.S. President George W. Bush as a "retarded country fella."
He also ridiculed the oaths of virginity undertaken by fresh-faced teen idols the Jonas Brothers, declaring that "Eight years of Bush is what the Jonas Brothers are going to have to cram into their bachelor parties."
But "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks came to the brothers' defence, saying, "It's not bad to wear a promise ring, because not every guy or girl wants to be a slut."
"High School Musical" star Ashley Tisdale also entered the fray on the brothers' behalf, telling reporters backstage that Brand's jokes were "not really nice."
Even Paris Hilton took pity on the threesome. "Don't pick on them. That's something cool for a kid to keep."
The awards were held in Los Angeles for the first time in a decade, on the historic studio lot of MTV's corporate sibling, Paramount Pictures. The lifestyle cable network used the faux city streets, rooftops, and sound stages all over the Paramount lot to show various performances.
Last year, 7.1 million MTV viewers watched the festivities, according to Nielsen Media Research. While viewership was up from 5.8 million the year before, the numbers were a far cry from the record 12 million viewers for the 1999 version.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)