Brand fails to conquer but Britney sweeps board at MTV awards

Britney Spears swept the board at MTV's Video Music Awards today, in an appearance that was hailed as a "resurrection" of her career.

Spears, who has been nominated 16 times before but never won, thanked "God first and foremost for just blessing me like this" as she picked up the best video, best pop video and best female video awards for Piece Of Me.

British comedian Russell Brand, who presented the live show despite being a virtual unknown in the United States, hailed the "launch of a very new Britney Spears era".

"Consider this the resurrection of Britney Spears," he said. "If there was a female Christ, it's Britney."

The 26-year-old troubled pop star thanked God, "my beautiful family, my two beautiful boys, for just inspiring me every day and my fans, this is for you".

She also paid tribute to her record label boss Barry Wise and her manager Larry Rudolf "for always believing in me" as she dedicated the top award to her "amazing fans out there for all of their support".

"This means a lot," she said.

Spears, who wore a short silver mini-dress with a plunging neckline showcasing her svelte figure, was given a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd even before she opened her mouth.

But the pop queen, whose lacklustre and widely-ridiculed performance of Gimme More last year was followed by a series of problems, including losing custody of her two young children, took no risks as she opened the annual awards show.

Her perfunctory introduction of Rihanna's opening song, during which she said she was there to celebrate the show's "very important" 25th birthday, left many disappointed after Brand had promised "a mind-bending" appearance.

But she earned a few laughs during a pre-taped comedic segment with Superbad actor Jonah Hill, in which he repeatedly tried to trick her into kissing him.

As she left Hollywood's Paramount Studios on the back of a golf buggy with Brand, he told Spears that she had "conquered the whole of the VMA awards, you stand above it like a colossus, you're certainly back, you look more beautiful than ever".

But there were more questions over Brand's appearance.

During his innuendo-laden opening monologue, the celebrity audience seemed more nervous than amused, as Brand took aim at President George Bush, Madonna and the virginity of teen sensations the Jonas Brothers.

"As a representative of the global community, a visitor from abroad, I don't want to come across a little bit biased, but could I please ask of you, people of America, please elect Barack Obama, please, on behalf of the world," he said.

"Some people, I think they're called racists, say America is not ready for a black president.

"But I know America to be a forward-thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retard and cowboy fella be president for eight years.

"We were very impressed. we thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn't be trusted with a pair of scissors."

Brand was also forced to apologise and defend his mockery of promise rings, worn by the Jonas Brothers, after R&B singer Jordin Sparks called him a "slut" when she came on stage.

"It's not bad to wear a promise ring because not everybody, guy or girl, wants to be a slut," she said.

Later, Brand said: "I've got to say sorry because I said them things about promise rings. That were bad of me, I didn't mean to take it lightly, or whatever.

"I love the Jonas Brothers, think it's really good. I don't want to p*** off teenage fans, all right. In fact, quite the opposite.

"So promise rings, I'm well up for it, well done everyone, It's just that, you know, a bit of sex occasionally never hurt anybody."

Spears' attempt to resurrect her career at last year's VMAs was widely seen as a disaster, with her poor performance and flabby form being heavily criticised.

But the star, who kissed Madonna during the 2006 ceremony, was warmly received by today's celebrity audience.

Showbiz observers have said Spears is a "very different woman" to the "erratic and distracted" star who publicly shaved her head before going into rehab last year.

Her former husband Kevin Federline was granted custody of the couple's two boys - Sean Preston, two, and Jayden James, one - in January following several high-profile incidents of erratic behaviour.

The court heard police were called to Spears' home after she refused to relinquish one of the boys to a Federline bodyguard.

Just six months ago, Spears left a psychiatric ward and stirred up a paparazzi car chase, a scene that looked like the beginning of even more erratic behaviour.

But in the weeks that followed, she kept a relatively low profile and largely avoided the cameras, spending time with family members.

She even found success in a cameo appearance on CBS' How I Met Your Mother.

Spears has been under the conservatorship of her father Jamie for the last six months after the court put him in control of his daughter's personal and financial affairs.

During that time, the pop star has been relatively invisible to photographers, only occasionally snapped shopping or having dinner with her mother Lynne.

A traffic accident in April turned out to be a minor bump in which no-one was injured, and for which no-one was prosecuted.

Briton Leona Lewis also performed on the show, which was broadcast live across the US, and also featured Christina Aguilera in her first televised performance since giving birth to son Max in January.