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 MTVSpears, 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 minidress. After being escorted from her dressing room, Spears took center stage, clutched the microphone tightly 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.
(See photos: Rock Star Style at the VMAs!)
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," she 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."
Spears later picked up her second award for best pop video, also for "Piece of Me." "I'm speechless," she chirped as she offered thanks to manager Larry Rudolph, who accompanied her to the show, and her fans.
Host with the MostHost 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 nominees the Jonas Brothers. His remarks about their purity rings caused a bit of controversy, and the host was forced to apologize later in the night.
An Assortment of PerformersOne unique factor about this year's show: The diversity of performance spots. 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.
Rockers Paramore performed from legendary rock club Whisky A Go Go, but were bested by Linkin Park for best rock video honors.
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."
And Kanye West closed the evening with an intense outdoor performance of an unreleased song before the stunned masses.
Reporting by MARISA LAUDADIO
PHOTOS & MORE:
Complete VMAs Coverage