NEW YORK – Britney Spears slithered on stage with a snake and other animals at Thursday's MTV Video Music Awards in a much-anticipated performance.
As the pop princess performed her new song, "I'm A Slave 4U," she danced with a boa constrictor, picking it up at times. The act also featured a tiger and other animals.
Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" video was the big winner of the night at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York's Lincoln Center, winning six of the nine awards for which it was nominated.
But it was the sexy video "Lady Marmalade" that took home the year's top trophy.
"Lady Marmalade," the Moulin Rouge-inspired video, was a collaboration featuring a sexy quartet of Pink, Christina Aguilera, Mya, and Lil' Kim. It also received an award for best video from a film.
The night's other big winner was 'N Sync, who received four awards for their special-effects laden video, "Pop," including the viewer's choice award. Jaws dropped when 'N Sync snagged the best dance video, beating out favorite Fatboy Slim.
As always, the awards themselves tend to be an afterthought, upstaged by the evening's over-the-top moments. Thursday was no exception, as 'N Sync capped off a colorful re-creation of "Pop" with a non-surprise surprise appearance from the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.
Jackson took a break from rehearsing for Friday's Madison Square Garden extravaganza to awkwardly gyrate for a few seconds to 'N Sync's hit. He didn't sing, but still received a standing ovation from the crowd.
The "Weapon of Choice" clip by Fatboy Slim, a DJ, doesn't even feature the artist. Its star is the always-intriguing film actor Christopher Walken, dancing a la Fred Astaire around an empty hotel lobby. Known for his sunken eye-sockets and for playing villainous roles, Walken also happens to be a classically-trained dancer. Among the early awards "Weapon of Choice" nabbed was one for best direction, for Spike Jonze, and one for best choreography.
Mudvayne won the MTV2 award spotlighting emerging artists, but it was hard to concentrate on the heavy metal group's acceptance speech: They appeared at the podium in gory makeup that made them look as if they had been shot in the forehead, with fake blood oozing down their faces and chests.
And Macy Gray upstaged the announcement of the award for best new artist as she urged everyone "to take a minute and concentrate on my dress," which read: "My new album drops Sept. 18, 2001." Then she turned around to let her derriere tell the audience to "Buy it."
The night was not without its glitches: As U2 was about to perform "Elevation," a technical problem forced MTV to cut to commercials until it was fixed.
"So MTV weren't paying their electricity bill," quipped Bono before the group received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award for lifetime achievement.
Collaborating with No Doubt's Gwen Stefani — known just as well for her rock-hard midriff as her rock-pop voice — proved to be a good move for Moby and Eve. Moby won best male video for "South Side," featuring Stefani; and Eve won best female video for "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," also with Stefani.
Comedian-host Jamie Foxx got the evening off to a raunchy start. After parodying the evening's setting with opera renditions of hits like "Bootylicious," he launched into a monologue that had to be bleeped by MTV censors.
Foxx had previously said he would not lampoon celebrities during the show, but apparently had a change of heart, joking about Mariah Carey's recent nervous breakdown and Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean's battle with alcohol abuse.
The Backstreet Boys gave out the evening's first award, for best hip-hop video. Before OutKast picked up their trophy, McLean thanked MTV and fans for supporting him during his recent stint in rehab.
"Today is 64 days sober, and I'm proud of it," he said to applause.
As the group made its way off the stage, Foxx held out a bottle to them. "You want some champagne, some champagne?" he joked before the stunned crowd. "It's apple cider, apple cider! You can drink apple cider, can't you?"
Moments later, however, the mood turned somber with a tribute to Aaliyah, who was killed Aug. 25 in a plane crash. Janet Jackson, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Ginuwine and Timbaland joined Aaliyah's brother, Rashad Haughton, in remembering the 22-year-old singer and actress, who was to be a presenter Thursday evening.
"I think what we've got to learn out of this is to appreciate each other while we're here on earth," said Elliott, who wore a white jacket with Aaliyah's image on the back and her name on the side. "I love you Aaliyah, and you're forever missed."
Bono also paid tribute to Joey Ramone, who died earlier this year of lymphoma, as he introduced the remaining members of the legendary punk rock group the Ramones to the audience.
Among the evening's performers was Jennifer Lopez, who sang her latest hit "I'm Real" with rapper Ja Rule during the show; Linkin Park; U2; Jay-Z and Elliott, who dedicated her performance to Aaliyah.
Prior to the show, fans who gathered outside to greet their favorite stars were treated to concert performances by Alien Ant Farm, City High and Eve. Sean "P.Diddy" Combs made the grandest entrance: He arrived on top of an 18-wheeler truck, rapping his latest hit, "Bad Boys for Life."
The awards ceremony was aired live on MTV.
The New York Post and the Associated Press contributed to this report.