Eminem, Rihanna, Lindsay and Chelsea kick off VMAs

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Lindsay Lohan made her first post-jail and rehab TV appearance, host Chelsea Handler got spanked, Eminem and Rihanna got dark with their “Love the Way You Lie,” and Lady Gaga thanked “the gays.”

Yet it was still a relatively tame beginning for the MTV Video Music Awards, which got underway Sunday in Los Angeles in a ceremony on a futuristic white stage set and a cast that included Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Kim Kardashian, and the cast of MTV’s reality show phenomenon, “Jersey Shore.”

“They’re the reason MTV doesn’t play your videos,” Handler joked in her opening monologue, which began with her descending from the ceiling in a Gaga-inspired, over-the-top, glittery monstrosity of a dress, with a model house as her helmet.

But the real excitement was promised for later, with an expected Kanye West-Taylor Swift showdown. Both stars were expected to perform, and a person familiar with the show said Swift’s song would address the infamous debacle of last year, when West got on stage after her win and said the trophy should have gone to fellow nominee Beyonce.

Handler acknowledged the anticipation for the two stars.

“It’s time to address the big black elephant in the room,” she said. “Where’s Kanye?”

West endured enormous backlash after the incident, despite a later apology, and recently detailed the negative effects on Twitter. For his part, he tweeted early Sunday that he was feeling positive energy, and said he wished his mother was still alive to see his performance.

“It’s funny,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “I Can’t believe it’s been a whole year but can’t believe all that’s happened within this year at the same time.”

Even if the anticipated fireworks involving Swift and West don’t materialize, there should be other watercooler moments; after all, these are the VMAs. The cast of “Jackass” got rowdy early on, as one of the cast members stripped off his clothes onstage and revealed his underwear _ made to look like a chicken, with one suggestive part.

Handler also added to the bawdiness. A pre-taped portion of her opening featured the host getting spanked multiple times by show participants in a backstage hallway before running into the recently freed Lohan, who also gave her a swat.

“Have you been drinking?” Lohan demanded from Handler. “Do you think anyone wants to work with a drunk? Take it from me! They don’t!”

Later, on stage, Handler implored the all-star audience to get wild.

“I want to encourage everybody to be on their worst behavior,” she said. “I want to turn this mother out. … Get your tongues ready because I want those tongues shoved in places they’re not supposed to be.”

In between the zaniness and performances from the likes of Bieber and Usher, some actual awards were given out. Lady Gaga _ who set a VMA record with her 13 nominations _ was awarded best female video and best dance video for “Bad Romance” and best collaboration for her mini-epic “Telephone,” featuring Beyonce.

Upon winning the female video award, she gingerly walked on stage in a spectacular outfit by the late Alexander McQueen: A Victorian-inspired gown and a Mohawk feather headdress atop a long white wig, with monstrous stilettos that made her look as she was on stilts.

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