LAS VEGAS, Sept 9 Faded pop star Britney Spears launched her highly anticipated comeback at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, dressing up like a stripper to deliver a curious performance of her new single.
The 25-year-old singer, whose professional achievements have been overshadowed by her personal crises in recent years, sang "Gimme More," sporting a black sequined bikini and knee-high boots.
She moved slowly around the stage at the Palms casino, often with the aid of her dancers. She appeared to be miming to a backing track. At one stage, the camera panned to rapper 50 Cent, sitting in the audience, who looked bewildered by the action on stage.
Spears, who was not nominated for any of MTV's "Moonman" statuettes, was easily the most anticipated performer of the two-hour show, which kicked off at 6 p.m. PDT (0100 GMT Monday).
Not everyone was thrilled she had secured the plum opening slot. Five-time nominee Kanye West, who releases his third album in North America on Tuesday, shared his displeasure during a concert the night before.
"I can't believe she would perform. She hasn't had a hit record in years," the outspoken hip-hop star improvised during his performance.
Spears released her last studio album in 2003, the commercial disappointment "In the Zone" -- and West has recorded three albums in that time. She has been working on a new album for more than a year, although it is not known when it will see the light of day.
R&B singer Mary J. Blige was supportive, declaring that Spears was "smart ... she just went through a lot of things."
Such "things" included two marriages, two children, and two rehab stints, not to mention countless displays of bizarre public behavior such as shaving her head in public.
TIMBERLAKE, BEYONCE LEAD NOMINEES
Spears' former boyfriend, Justin Timberlake, was the leading nominee, along with R&B singer Beyonce. Each scored seven nominations.
Timberlake and Beyonce will compete for video of the year, with their respective clips "What Goes Around ... Comes Around" and "Irreplaceable," alongside English soul singer Amy Winehouse ("Rehab"), French DJ duo Justice ("D.A.N.C.E."), Kanye West ("Stronger") and R&B singer Rihanna ("Umbrella").
Timberlake and West were also cited for male artist of the year, along with R&B singers Akon and Robin Thicke, and rapper T.I.
Beyonce, Winehouse and Rihanna will compete for female artist of the year, against Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie and pop star Nelly Furtado.
The Best New artist category, voted on by viewers, includes Winehouse, English pop singer Lily Allen, country star Carrie Underwood, hip-hop group Gym Class Heroes and Swedish pop trio Peter Bjorn and John. The other categories are determined by a poll of music industry professionals.
MTV is bringing the show to Las Vegas for the first time, hoping to reverse a sharp slide in viewership for its flagship awards bash.
Last year's ceremony in New York drew 5.8 million viewers, down from 8 million in 2005 and 10.3 million in 2004, according to Nielsen Media Research. By contrast, the Grammys drew just over 20 million viewers in February.