Nearly a year to the day after her performing career went awry at the 2007 VMAs, Britney Spears emerged a new, confident woman on Sunday.
Looking bright-eyed, healthy and bearing the girlish charm that helped the world fall in love with her a decade ago, Spears bantered playfully with actor Jonah Hill and was gracious and humble in accepting her first-ever VMA trophies.
Before Britney's appearance on the show,Jordan Miller, webmaster for the Britney fan site BreatheHeavy.com said his only advice to the singer would be, " 'Get dolled up, look amazing, and just enjoy the show,' " which is exactly what Spears appeared to do. As celebrity blogger Perez Hilton said, "That's what people want. They want to see her smiling. Even if all she does is smile and wave, I say that's mission accomplished."
Since her new album is a work in progress, Spears chose not to perform on the show — which may have been a wise move, according to People magazine Senior Editor Julie Dam.
"She looked fantastic ... really great and together and happy," Dam said. "Physically, she looked amazing, which is already such a dramatic change from how she looked last year. I think people are rooting for her and I'm not surprised she won [three awards]."
Like Spears' first appearance on the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," the singer's skit with Hill was funny and served to remind the public of her comedic timing, Dam said, which could prove useful in the future should Spears decide to give acting on the big screen another shot.
"Last night was really good in that she looked amazing but didn't perform, because she didn't need to perform last night," Dam said. "It would have been asking too much. She showed up, looked good, accepted her awards, gave brief speeches, thanked God and her kids and, at the end, [manager] Larry Rudolph and her label, which is definitely setting the table for the future."
It was as if she'd said, " 'I'm back and I've won these awards,' " Dam continued. "Let's see what the music says now. Her next big step is to deliver an album that's really good and promote it in a different way than she did the last one [Blackout]," which Spears barely promoted at all.
While fans were undoubtedly excited to see Britney back, the way she presents herself on her next album will be critical, according to Ken Baker, E! executive news editor. Speaking before the VMAs, Baker said that even though she's a mother of two, Britney's fans don't necessarily want her to evolve too much.
"That would be a round peg in a square hole," he said. "Her voice has a certain range. Her style has a certain range. But lyrically, she should have more depth. And her album is going to have a lot of personal experiences on it, some intense things that reflect her life. But a lot of it will be the traditional Britney escapist-bubblegum-dance-pop that she's known for. She shouldn't venture too far out of that. She can't run around in a schoolgirl outfit, that page has turned, but her art doesn't have to be a mirror. That would be depressing. You don't want songs about Britney being in a mental ward."
The fact that Spears was able to bounce back and win three top awards didn't escape the notice of TV Guide Executive Editor Craig Tomashoff, who was hoping for a bit more from the former Mouseketeer. "I'm surprised the opening sketch didn't make any reference to last year," he said. "She seemed kind of nervous and ... I was expecting a little sense of humor about last year, or that there would be some little funny nod to it, something playful that referred to what made it a big deal for her to show up this year."
And, after all the rumors of a possible surprise Britney performance, Tomashoff said he was a bit disappointed that there wasn't more from the singer, adding that she might think about pursuing a parallel or primary career in sitcoms. "She did very well with 'How I Met Your Mother' and I think if she were to try and go in a comedic direction ... she has pretty good skills at that," he said. "She seems to have a knack for TV comedy and doing a couple more shows as much as anything could rehabilitate her image."
Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Vanessa Grigoriadis, who wrote a cover story on Spears' downward spiral for the magazine earlier this year, said she felt the singer did the one thing she most needed to do Sunday night to prove that she's ready for her close-up again: cooperate.
"That is a big deal, because she was so completely, utterly, totally out of control a year ago at this time," Grigoriadis said. "Obviously, she has it in her DNA to learn a song and choreography and do that as well as anybody — as long as she's willing to."