August 21, 2018 12:38 AM EDT

From the moment Cardi B kicked off the festivities cuddling a moon person disguised as her new baby, it was clear the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards wanted to keep the party loose.

None of the celebrities in the audience could quite match the power of Beyoncé’s 2016 mini-concert takeover or the shock of Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift in 2009. There were highs like Jennifer Lopez’s confident, career-spanning medley and lows that didn’t go over quite as well, like Madonna’s puzzling tribute to Aretha Franklin. It was an underwhelming night, with a few exceptions.

If you didn’t have a chance to tune into Monday night’s show, here are the best, the worst and the most surprising moments of the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards.

The Best

Jennifer Lopez’s VMA performance

Like the pro that she is, J.Lo breezed through hits like “Waiting for Tonight” and “Jenny From the Block.” The choreography was crisp, and the costume changes were impressive. She even sang on a New York City subway stage piece. All in all, in a show that was lacking theatrics, J. Lo brought the drama.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: Jennifer Lopez performs onstage during the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on August 20, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for MTV)
Michael Loccisano—Getty Images for MTV

Ja Rule joining J Lo on stage

Her performance wouldn’t be complete without Ja Rule—who joined her for “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny,” giving us the best throwback moment of the night. Competition in this nostalgia category was stiff thanks to The Hills and the Backstreet Boys singing lines from nominated tracks like Cardi B and Bruno Mars’ “Finesse,” but this iconic duo’s comeback was the most thrilling.

Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart presenting

The show returned to its no-host formula of 2016 after the Katy Perry-helmed 2017 MTV VMAs, which tends to make for a less streamlined night of television. But Haddish’s easy confidence as she held court with Kevin Hart helped start the evening off right. The costars of the upcoming comedy Night School showed off their teamwork as they roasted Jersey Shore and Fifth Harmony. Haddish doesn’t need an outrageous bit to make an impact, so the show wisely just let her riff—by herself, and with Hart.

The Worst

Shawn Mendes’s J. Lo introduction

Shawn Mendes introduced J. Lo’s Vanguard award directly to camera while people shifted around behind him. He was audible, but thanks to the chatter the audio was off, which made for a dissonant moment after J.Lo’s formidable performance. Luckily, Mendes’ impassioned performance of “In My Blood” went off without a hitch earlier in the broadcast.

Madonna’s Aretha Franklin tribute

File this one under poorly received. The awards show aimed for a reverent tone with VMA veteran Madonna paying homage to the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who died just last week. But Madonna—backgrounded by an image of Franklin—giving a meandering confessional speech that plugged her own album and lyrics was inevitably met with swift criticism online. Madonna’s message came off incongruous as a tribute given the mood.

Michael Loccisano—Getty Images for MTV

The Surprising

The Nicki Minaj VMA performance

Hot off accepting her award at Radio City Music Hall, Nicki Minaj appeared downtown in New York City’s Oculus, a transport and shopping center downtown. In gold armor, she performed “Barbie Dreams” and “Fefe.”

Nicki Minaj performs at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards at The Oculus on Aug. 20, 2018.
Kevin Mazur—Getty Images

Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick

The visual gag of these two actors inaudibly explaining the plot of their upcoming movie A Simple Favor as The Rockettes kicked behind them was one of the night’s more awkward moments. “And that’s how this movie’s going to get you laid,” Kendrick quipped at the end of the bit. It was a strange joke that underutilized the talent at hand.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively speak onstage during the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall on August 20, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Theo Wargo—Getty Images
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