She's Back! How Britney Turned Her Year Around

After a rocky time, the birthday girl is making music, winning awards – and spending time with her boys

01 of 14

WOMAN ON TOP

WOMAN ON TOP
Sipa

Forget last year's disastrous turn at the MTV Video Music Awards. Britney Spears is back! In her first live performance since her hospitalization in January, the pop star takes the stage at Germany's Bambi Awards for a dance-filled, energetic rendition of her new single, "Womanizer." It was a victorious moment for Spears, who began 2008 under psychiatric care, and has slowly been working her way back into the public eye.

02 of 14

NEW BEGINNINGS

NEW BEGINNINGS
Edward Hirst/Rex

Spears celebrates her 27th birthday early, hitting a party in her honor at G-A-Y nightclub in London. On her actual birthday, Dec. 2, the singer also marks the release of her new CD, Circus, an album Spears describes as – no surprise, considering the year she's experienced. From her ups to her downs, take a look back at how Spears regained control – and took back her life.

03 of 14

BABY STEPS

BABY STEPS
Cousart-Ramirez-Rios/JFX

Back in February, with dad Jamie in legal control of her affairs, Spears took a step toward normalcy by hitting the floor at L.A.'s Millennium Dance Complex. A few days later, she returned to the studio as a teacher, leading an hour-long class of kids, aged 4 to 7. "She even played age-appropriate games in a circle, pretending to be a choo-choo train," Complex director Robert Baker told PEOPLE. "Britney was just amazing with the kids and everyone ended up having a blast. At the end of the hour class, all the kids hugged Britney and she seemed very happy."

04 of 14

FLEX APPEAL

FLEX APPEAL
Cousart Ramirez Rios/JFX

Spears gets back into fighting form with regular visits to a Bally Total Fitness gym in Studio City, Calif. "I couldn't be happier to see the condition she's in," her on-and-off manager, Larry Rudolph, tells Ryan Seacrest's KIIS-FM radio show. "What she needs now is she needs the public to be on her side and root for her, because she deserves it and that means a lot to her."

05 of 14

MOM'S DAY OUT

MOM'S DAY OUT
RAMEY; inset: L. Cohen/WireImage

Having reconciled after months of estrangement, the singer takes mom Lynne to Beverly Hills eatery Sur Restaurant to celebrate Mother's Day on May 11.

06 of 14

COMEDY GOLD

COMEDY GOLD
Cliff Lipson/CBS

Spears (left, with Neil Patrick Harris) appears as a daffy, obsessive receptionist on How I Met Your Mother, boosting the show's ratings when the episode airs on May 12. "She's been great to work with," star Josh Radnor tells PEOPLE. The singer returns to the sitcom for an encore performance. "I had such a great experience the last time I was on the show that I couldn’t wait to come back," she says in a statement.

07 of 14

BOOGIE DOWN

BOOGIE DOWN
Clasos/Splash News Online

Spears and her father Jamie relax in Costa Rica with Mel Gibson and his family, where the singer spends some time boogie-boarding in the surf. "Mel and his wife Robin clearly saw a woman in crisis and wanted to extend themselves in any way possible," a source tells PEOPLE. The pop star and actor were neighbors when Spears lived in Malibu.

08 of 14

A CHERISHED MOMENT

A CHERISHED MOMENT
Cousart-Ramirez-Rios/JFX

Spears enjoys a tender moment with her children, Jayden James, then 1, and Sean Preston, 2 (not pictured), after winning more visitation time with her sons. "We are so pleased with Britney's progress, and we are appreciative of the court's recognition of this progress," Spears's parents, Jamie and Lynne Spears, said in statement.

09 of 14

A GLAM OUTING

A GLAM OUTING
INF

Spears joins Fergie, Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg and more stars at the 50th birthday party for Ed Hardy designer Christian Audigier at L.A.'s Petersen Automotive Museum on May 23. Also in attendance? Jamie Spears, who stayed in the VIP room with his daughter, who told PEOPLE she's doing "good."

10 of 14

LOW RIDER

LOW RIDER
Cousart Ramirez Rios/JFX

Spears gets in the driver's seat – in a pint-sized Cadillac Escalade! – during a sunny playdate with her sons Sean Preston and Jayden James (not pictured) on June 5. A few week's earlier, ex-husband Kevin Federline's attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, said the pop star's relationship with his client had improved.

11 of 14

SISTERLY LOVE

SISTERLY LOVE
Westley Hargrave/Splash News Online

After traveling to her hometown of Kentwood, La., to be at sister Jamie Lynn's side when she delivered her baby, the new aunt returned to a paparazzi frenzy in L.A.

12 of 14

SLEEK & CHIC

SLEEK & CHIC
Flynet

Glam and gorgeous, Spears gets her hair lightened to her signature baby blonde color on July 8 at Kim Vo's B2V Hair Salon in Beverly Hills. The occasion? The singer was reuniting with Madonna to film a segment for the Material Mom's Sticky amp Sweet tour.

13 of 14

JUST JOKES

JUST JOKES
Frank Micelotta/MTV

In August, Spears pokes fun at her previous year's disastrous performance of "Gimme More" by filming promotional spots with host Russell Brand – with a giant elephant in the room.

Her peers rally around the VMA nominee, with Pharrell Williams telling PEOPLE that and Pete Wentz saying, "The fans really want to see Britney win and turn it around."

14 of 14

VMA GOLDEN GIRL

VMA GOLDEN GIRL
Frank Micelotta/Getty

After opening the MTV Video Music Awards, Spears went on to take home three Moonmen – her first-ever wins at the show. Among her spoils: the highly coveted video of the year for "Piece of Me." "I'm in shock," the grateful star said. The victory signaled that she was finally on the right track. "The whole year has been a hell of a year for me," Spears told Glamour. "When I received the awards [at the VMAs] and [the audience] stood for me, it showed me how much love is out there."

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