Britney Spears is at an important juncture as she tries to rekindle her career and reclaim her pop princess crown.
The troubled performer's been making big news for all the wrong reasons but, observes The Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman, she's finished an album, and hopes to take a big step on the road back Sunday when she does the opening number at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Britney was a superstar and, Kauffman points out, the Video Music Awards provided the platform for some of her most outrageous performances, such as the time she kissed Madonna on the lips onstage at the 2003 show.
But it's been four years since Spears released an album.
In the interim, she's become a favorite tabloid target for, among other things, hard-partying, in one case, sans panties.
"I was always a little different," Spears chuckled in one interview.
"She's like a speeding train that you can't stop now," remarks Siri Garber, president of Platform PR, "because I don't think there's anybody working with her or behind her right now that she's listening to."
Garber, who's guided many stars through the pitfalls of celebrity, says Britney should be seeking help, not hits, asserting, "She's just kind of on a crash course with something -- destruction."
"I think," explains Garber, "Justin Timberlake, he was trying to help her … and then he kind of gave up on that, because the behavior's been so erratic."
But Britney is aiming to get her career back on track.
Just last week, two new songs hit the Internet, including "Gimme More," which surprised Billboard magazine Executive Editor Bill Werde, who says it "threw me a little bit of a curve ball when I first heard the song. I was like, 'Wow, she's sort of embracing some of the things that caused her problems: the club life, the sexiness, the partying.' But it sounds great!"
For weeks, says Kauffman, Britney has been spotted in the company of illusionist Criss Angel, but is it all smoke and mirrors, or is he really helping create what just might be another show-stopper?
"All Britney really has to do," comments Werde, "is be Britney. People are looking for her at this point to be sexy, to be active, to sound good, to look good."
But Garber says Britney could be in for a backlash: "There might be 20 percent of fans who will be excited to see her, and then I think it'll be 80 percent people wanting to see her fail, wanting to see if she comes out on stage looking bad. 'Is there cellulite showing? ...Is she lip-syncing? Does she look like she's on something?' "
Britney remains in a custody battle with her ex, Kevin Federline. And next week, their little boys, Jayden and Sean, turn one and two.
"I think," says Graber, "if she threw a big party for her kids right now, it's just going to look like a publicity stunt. ...'And now, I'm going to have a party for my kids, so I can party at my party for my kids.' "
Britney's new album has a November release date.
Last year, the music industry experienced a double-digit decline in sales, and record execs are hoping she can stand and deliver.
"Because Britney is sort of this redemption story," Werde says, "and everyone is watching it so closely, it has the opportunity to be a massively successful album."
Which begs the question, Kauffman concludes, how would she handle that success?