(updates with show close, fighting, winners)
By Dean Goodman
LAS VEGAS, Sept 9 Britney Spears launched her highly anticipated comeback at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, drawing ridicule by dressing up as a stripper and miming her new single.
The 25-year-old singer, whose professional achievements have been overshadowed by her personal crises in recent years, performed "Gimme More" in a black sequined bikini and knee-high boots.
No longer boasting the buff body that helped drive her to international superstardom almost a decade ago, the mother of two moved sluggishly around the stage at the Palms casino, often with the support of a troupe of dancers. At one point, the camera panned to rapper 50 Cent, sitting in the audience, who looked bewildered by the action on stage.
"She blew it," gossip columnist Perez Hilton told Reuters. "Everybody knows Britney lip-syncs, but that's because she dances so much. She barely even danced in this. It was so bad. It was painful. It was embarrassing. And I loved it!"
Comedian Sarah Silverman also showed no mercy. She took to the stage when the performance was over, declaring that the singer's young children were "the most adorable mistakes you'll ever see."
It was not the only excitement at the two-hour show. Tommy Lee and Kid Rock, both former husbands of model Pamela Anderson, got into a fight while Alicia Keys was performing.
"There were no fists, they were just holding each other, grabbing each other," Tom Higginson, singer of the pop band Plain White Ts, told Reuters. "Security had to break them up."
Almost lost in the shuffle was the fact that Spears' former boyfriend, Justin Timberlake took home four statuettes, including male artist of the year.
Along with R&B singer Beyonce, he led the field with seven nominations. Beyonce won a single award -- most earth-shattering collaboration -- for her duet with Colombian pop singer Shakira on the tune "Beautiful Liar."
R&B singer Rihanna won the top prize, video of the year, for her smash hit "Umbrella." That tune also won for monster single of the year.
Hip-hop singer Kanye West went home empty-handed after receiving five nominations. He was also not thrilled that Spears took the plum opening slot.
"I can't believe she would perform. She hasn't had a hit record in years," the outspoken hip-hop star improvised during a performance the night before.
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 be released.
MTV brought the show to Las Vegas for the first time, hoping to reverse a sharp slide in viewership for its 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.