If she manages to pull it off, Spears - who is up for three awards, including video of the year for "Piece of Me" - will come away with the most improved award after bombing in spectacular fashion at last year's festivities in Las Vegas. Though heavily hyped as a comeback for a troubled diva in decline, Spears delivered one of the worst performances in VMA history, stumbling her way through her song "Gimme More" looking disheveled and disinterested.
But Spears comes into this year's ceremony on an upswing: The disturbing behavior that defined her last year has dissipated, she's working on a new album, and made well-received appearances on CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" earlier this year.
Her fellow celebrities were rooting for her to complete the comeback this time around.
"I think she's an amazing artist. Take away all the gossip and the scandal and she's a brilliant performer and exciting to watch," said Mel B as she walked the red carpet Sunday.
"As far as Britney, she can do what she wants and still be the queen of all this," said T-Pain, who was also performing Sunday night.
Spears won't be the only act of the night looking for a second chance after a disappointing VMA experience last year. Kanye West is expected to close the two-hour ceremony; in Vegas, he had a Kanye-sized hissy fit backstage and vowed never to appear at the VMAs again after he didn't get a Moonman trophy despite being nominated several times. He also lashed out for being confined to performing at one of last year's suite parties instead of on the main stage.
Even though he was primed to have a big spotlight tonight, friend and collaborator Lupe Fiasco said West was likely to find something to complain about.
"There's so much that could go wrong and set my man off over the top," he said.
Kid Rock is looking to make headlines for his music instead of his fighting. The rocker wasn't even a performer last year but became part of one of the most talked about moments of the ceremony when he got into a fight with fellow rocker Tommy Lee, a fellow ex-husband of Pamela Anderson, in the audience. Though cameras did not capture the fight for viewers, it was the source of onstage fodder for the likes of Jamie Foxx and Diddy.
T.I. is another performer giving a noteworthy performance, since the last time he was due to perform at an awards show, he was arrested instead. T.I. was apprehended in October, shortly before the start of the BET Hip-Hop Awards, accused of trying to buy machine guns and silencers; he was sentenced earlier this year to serve about a year in prison after completing at least 1,000 hours of community service.
He is due to perform with Rihanna, who also appeared on last year's show. But the dazzling singer from Barbados is hardly in need of any second chances, coming into the VMAs as one of music's hottest acts thanks to her two No. 1 hits of the summer, "Take a Bow" and "Disturbia."
Other performers slated for Sunday's show include the Jonas Brothers, Lil Wayne, Christina Aguilera and Paramore and Katy Perry. Perry, who had one of the summer's biggest songs with "I Kissed a Girl," is slated to perform not only her own hit but a snippet of Madonna's "Like A Virgin" as MTV pays tribute to some of its more memorable moments as it celebrates its 25th year.
"I'm just excited to have a great seat," said the 23-year-old Perry. "I'm excited to change looks and to have fun ... I'm excited to be a part of something that I would sneak over to my friend's house and plan my whole week around."
Presenters include Olympic darling Michael Phelps and "High School Musical" stars Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and Corbin Bleu.
The show will be held this year in Los Angeles, at Paramount Studios, where its various movie sets have the potential to be an interesting backdrop for the show and its performers. The show's host for the evening is British comedian Russell Brand.