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Britney opens MTV VMAs
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A year after her disastrous performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, Britney Spears opened the event's 25th annual installment on Sunday in anti-climactic fashion, leaving the singing to others.

Britney Spears appears onstage with her award for best female video for "Piece of Me" at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles September 7, 2008. [Agencies] 

After weeks of hype, the pop singer took the stage simply to 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."

And that was it. While MTV had said Spears would not be singing, it had promised a fun surprise. The audience barely had time to digest her perfunctory delivery before R&B singer Rihanna belted out the show's first musical performance.

Spears did return to the stage a few minutes later to accept the first award of the night, best female video for her tune "Piece Of Me." It also represented the first MTV "Moonman" statuette of her career.

She thanked God, her family and dedicated the award to her fans. Spears is also in contention for video of the year and best pop video, both also for "Piece of Me," which stalled at No. 18 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart earlier this year.

Spears inadvertently stole the show last year. Clearly unsteady and out-of-shape, she badly lip-synched to 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.

The show was hosted by British comedian Russell Brand, who implored Americans to elect Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Brand described U.S. President George W. Bush as a "retarded country fella ... In England, George Bush wouldn't be trusted with a pair of scissors."

Perhaps best known to mainstream audiences for his scene-stealing turn as a lovably sleazy rock star in the romantic comedy feature "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Brand also ripped Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and described the British royal family as "inbred nitwits."

The awards are being 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 is using the faux city streets, rooftops, and sound stages all over the Paramount lot to show various performances.

Besides Spears, other video of the year nominees are: R&B singer Chris Brown's "Forever," teen idols the Jonas Brothers' "Burnin' Up," girl group the Pussycat Dolls' "When I Grow Up" and English pop duo the Ting Tings' "Shut Up and Let Me Go."

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.

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