LAS VEGAS — No snakes. No same-sex kisses. No magic tricks. No skimpy outfits. OK, plenty of skimpy outfits. After all, it's Britney, bitch, right? With one of the most anticipated openings in VMA history, Britney Spears tried to get the party started Sunday night with a James Bond-meets-underground S&M club slither through her new single, "Gimme More." But the evening belonged to Rihanna and Britney's old beau, Justin Timberlake, who both scooped up two awards, including the coveted Video of the Year for Rihanna in honor of her inescapable smash "Umbrella." Timberlake videos also won Best Choreography and Best Direction.
After weeks of relentless hype and endless accounts of her preshow partying, Britney's much-discussed comeback performance opened with a close-up of the back of her head. Staring straight into the camera, she purred the beginning couplet to "Trouble," made famous by the ultimate Las Vegas legend, Elvis, "If you're lookin' for trouble, you came to the right place/ If you're lookin' for trouble, look right in my face." The camera panned out to reveal Spears decked out in Vegas-appropriate bling, including a black, jewel-encrusted bra and hot pants, black boots and nothing else. Sashaying in and out of dancers in skin-tight leather, Spears literally stepped over the back of a male dancer and got intimate with another.
With images of chandeliers floating on the screen behind her mixed with silhouettes of women befitting the intro reel to a James Bond flick, Spears walked across the stage as her scantily clad dancers worked a series of stripper poles scattered throughout the room. And then, after all that hype, a relieved-looking Brit gave a shy smile, whispered "thank you" and exited after a low-key performance that was quickly overshadowed by the likes of high-energy sets from the Foo Fighters, Chris Brown, Kanye and the most talked-about hookup (or is it right hook?) of the night: a scuffle between Pamela Anderson's former husbands, Kid Rock and Tommy Lee, that had Diddy and Jamie Foxx pleading with rock stars to end the violence.
Sarah Silverman gave her instant take on Britney with a slash and burn mini-monologue that managed to dis Spears' kids, Madonna and the bits of Brit we hope are kept under wraps from now on. The comedian seemed willing to ease up on her favorite recent target — Paris Hilton — but still managed to get one roundhouse in before paving the way for the night's first award, Monster Single of the Year. And who else could have taken that one home besides Rihanna? The humble songstress thanked fans and her producers for helping craft the year's truly monster smash, "Umbrella."
That award turned out to be just a prequel for the big one — and Rihanna accepted the Video of the Year honor from one of the night's biggest surprise guests, super-producer Dr. Dre. The clearly buffed-out Dre, who promised his long-rumored final album Detox is coming, handed the statue to Rihanna, who looked stunning in a floor-length pink gown and said the win was definitely the "most important" and "unexpected" of her two victories.
Even with way less categories than in the past, it was still an awards show and people were hyped to see who won what, but this lean, mean, retooled VMAs focused on the music, with performances raining down like $100 bills at 50's hectic poolside show Saturday night.
Like no other awards show before, the night's broadcast slammed into and out of commercial breaks with a series of live performances from the Palms Casino Resort's luxury suites.. They included bits of Kanye rocking "Stronger" amid a gang of fans wearing his now-signature Venetian-blind shades; Akon working the main stage solo for a run through "Smack That"; Fall Out Boy destroying their equipment after a hyped "Thnks Fr Th Mmrs"; and the Foo Fighters sweating through their new single, "The Pretender," with an assist from singer Dave Grohl's onetime Foos (and Nirvana) bandmate Pat Smear. The band also popped up later with special guest Cee-Lo, who got his rocker on during a sizzling cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki."
Midway through the show, Kanye strolled through his customized Sky Villa suite with pal T-Pain, making the rounds during "Good Life" like the exquisite party host he is, even gliding his way out to one of the cantilevered balconies that overlook the Vegas skyline. And, surrounded by women bouncing to his beats and with the Strip running out over his shoulder, you can bet he knew what it felt like when he rapped, "Everybody wants the good life."
In addition to having the honor of backing the night's big winner, Rihanna, for a guitar-heavy take on her new single "Shut Up and Drive," Fall Out Boy snagged the Best Group award, accepting it surrounded by their Decaydance Record pals. Hell, the bunny from Gym Class Heroes' "Clothes Off" handed bassist Pete Wentz the award as he traded his "three-peat" sign for the Moonman while wearing a frog mask on the back of his head. They kept it in the family, with Gym Class Heroes taking the Best New Artist trophy and eschewing the usual thank-yous for a chug-a-lug beer-spilling scrum that looked like a locker room after a Big Ten upset.
She's been gone from record stores almost as long as Britney, but Alicia Keys was clearly not a bit nervous as she strutted out, dress all in black, and unleashed the reggaefied first single from her upcoming album, "No One," before sliding into a gospel-fired cover of George Michael's "Freedom 90." And Linkin Park didn't hold back during a throat-shredding "Bleed It Out," which featured a big-beat intro from the night's music maestro, Timbaland.
But it was definitely Brown — who signaled his arrival with an electrifying performance that improbably melded hip-hop and Charlie Chaplin-style silent movie antics — whose act had people talking all night. Stepping out of a giant coin-operated machine, Brown did some slapstick dancing, hopscotching between disco-light-flashing platforms on the main floor of the Pearl, then chilling out for a minute to let Rihanna sing "Umbrella." He came back for a spot-on homage to Michael Jackson's legendary "Billie Jean" performance at the Motown 25th-anniversary celebration, complete with the hat toss, crotch grabs and impossibly liquid footwork. The VIPs surrounding his platform signaled their approval with a standing ovation and some high fives.
As for Justin, you know it's your year when you beat out Bono, Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Kanye for the inaugural Quadruple Threat of the Year award (see "MTV VMA Race Is On: Justin Timberlake, Beyonce Lead Nominations"). And Timberlake, grinning ear to ear and surrounded by a bevy of female fans, definitely seemed to sense it as he accepted the award, promising to keep the party going all night. It was just a good thing Kanye was nowhere to be seen when JT scooped the prize for Male Artist of the Year, because he might very well have bum-rushed after his second blank. Justin gave props to Kanye and fellow nominee Robin Thicke, as well as to Brown for his athletic performance earlier in the night. He also took the opportunity to mention for the second time (OK, we get it) that he thought MTV should play more videos.
JT was seemingly everywhere during the show, popping in to drop his butter-smooth hook on 50's "Ayo Technology" and closing the show along with Nelly Furtado and their mutual pal, Timbaland. Furtado's sexed-up "Do It" melded into Tim's throbbing "The Way I Are," which snaked into JT's "Love Stoned," as the former Mickey Mouse Club member reminded the crowd (and maybe someone else) that he can not only dance and sing, but can kill doing both, at the same time.
By now, they've talked up their upcoming chart battle at every possible opportunity, but 50 and Kanye played nice — after a clearly jesting staring contest — when it came time to hand out an award. Akon might have been on seemingly every hit collabo this year (at least when Weezy wasn't), but he was in good company with 'Ye as he rolled snake eyes on two chances in the Most Earth-Shattering Collaboration category, losing out to Beyoncé and Skakira's "Beautiful Liar." Fergie wasn't on hand, but Shia LaBeouf was happy to accept the award for Female Artist of the Year on her behalf, and also drop the super-secret word on the title of the new Indiana Jones flick he's co-starring in, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
Before Brown had them pounding the stage in excitement or Britney had them scratching their heads in confusion, Pussycat Dolls lead kitten Nicole Scherzinger got the party started early during the preshow with a sizzling hookup with Lil Wayne. Weezy enthusiastically filled in for T.I. during a performance of Scherzinger's first single, "Whatever You Like." (Check out Nicole Scherzinger and Lil Wayne's rehearsal right here.) As she shimmied beside him in a barely there red cocktail dress, black boots and leather gloves, a grinning Weezy rapped, "Her name be Nicole, oh man, she fine/ Standin' there lookin' like a glass of time/ You should make it hours, yours and mine/ I can't pronounce her last name so it should be mine!"
They made an interesting team on a night that was full of many different varieties of hookups ...
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