by WireImage

It was Britney's night!

The pop star made a triumphant return to MTV's Video Music Awards, winning three Moonmen, including the night's big honor, video of the year, for her hit "Piece of Me."

"I'm in shock," the grateful singer said after accepting her third award of the night from NBA star Kobe Bryant.

Happy Birthday MTV

Spears, of course, was the subject of much speculation and excitement after word spread that she would be opening the ceremony.


She looked a little nervous at first, but proved to be in fighting form in a vintage silver Versace mini-dress. After being escorted from her dressing room, Spears took center stage, clutched the microphone tight, and announced, "I'm here tonight to celebrate a very important birthday." Continued Spears: "This is the 25th Video Music Awards – and it starts right now."

With that, the pop star was gone, ceding the stage to a futuristic-looking Rihanna, who launched into her hit "Disturbia" with a goth-themed entourage touting glow sticks and leather.

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Moments later, Spears was back to accept her first VMA ever.

Nominated for 16 Moonmen in the past, the pop star nabbed the first award of the night, best female video, for her song "Piece of Me." Spears gave a brief speech, thanking God for "just blessing me like this," calling out her two sons and dedicating the award to her fans. "This is for you," Spears said.

And her fans were everywhere Sunday night. Haley Williams from Paramore saw Spears backstage and was overheard remarking to a bandmate, "Man, Britney looks really pretty."

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Spears later picked up her second award for best pop video, also for "Piece of Me." "I'm speechless," chirped the pop star as she offered thanks to manager Larry Rudolph, who accompanied Spears to the show, and her fans.

And finally, she was equally succinct in her Video of the Year Award acceptance speech.

"Wow. I'm in shock right now. I was not expecting this!"

Other winners of the show are: (photos by WireImage)

Chris Brown (Best Male Video for With you)

Linkin Park (Best Rock Video for Shadow of the day)

Lil Wayne (Best Hip Hop Video for Lollipop)

Pussycat Dolls (Best Dancing for When I Grow Up)

and Tokio Hotel (Best New Artist's Video for Ready, Set, Go)

Host With The Most

Host Russell Brand seemed to stun the audience with his high-minded, political comedy, making jokes at the expense of President George Bush ("In England, George Bush wouldn't be trusted with a pair of scissors") and remarks about nominees the Jonas Brothers and their purity rings. His remarks caused a bit controversy, and the host was forced to apologize later in the night.

An Assortment of Performers

One unique factor about this year's show: The diversity of performance spots.

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The Jonas Brothers offered a stripped down, acoustic version of their song "Love Bug" on a city street set, before launching into an electric finale on a stage that was mobbed by adoring teenage fans.

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Rockers Paramore performed from legendary rock club Whisky A Go Go, but were bested by Linkin Park for best rock video honors.

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New mom Christina Aguilera also made an appearance. She slinked onto the stage, performing a techno-inspired remix of her hit "Genie In A Bottle" to promote her upcoming greatest hits album, which then segued into her new song "Keeps Gettin' Better."

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And Kanye West closed down the evening with an intense outdoor performance of an unreleased song before the stunned masses.

by People,, WireImage and Getty Images.