Back in 2012, in the run-up to his good kid m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar began teasing a surprising new collaborator: Lady Gaga, who was, at the time, still sitting atop the pop hierarchy. Kendrick, on the other hand, was a promising rapper with a growing fanbase, but his most high-profile collaboration to date was with Dr. Dre, which was not a jarring surprise given the obvious mantle-passing component between the two L.A. natives.
Alas, whatever music Kendrick and Gaga made together was never actually released, but this was more than just two people leveraging each other’s cool. For one, two of their collaborations did eventually see the light of day, albeit unofficially. A few months after the release of good kid, Gaga used her version of that album’s hit “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” as the soundtrack to a sort of home movie. Then in 2015, “Partynauseous”—the song that started the Kendrick/Gaga hype cycle, to the extent that Gaga felt compelled to apologize on Twitter for it not materializing—mysteriously made its way online, where it still remains.
The one thing that both songs make clear is that it’s good that the dalliance between the two will just be a fun little footnote on each’s career. It’s nice to hear Gaga sounding laid-back and soulful singing the “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” chorus, but her presence also feels unnecessarily distracting. “Partynauseous,” which was purportedly slated at some point to be a single, is mostly an annoying song that doesn’t really present either artist in their best light. Kendrick + Gaga was probably more fun in theory than in practice, at least for the listener.
Still, this was a moment in time that even now is cool to cherish. Gaga’s career has swerved so many times that imagining her on a rap song now seems borderline absurd. Kendrick’s music has flourished even though he’s become increasingly hermetic, winnowing down his pool of collaborators and mostly ignoring the pop charts. Meanwhile, the rapper-singer collaborations that do hit those pop charts are constipated, unlistenable ballads by people like G-Eazy and Machine Gun Kelly and singers like Bebe Rexha and Camila Cabello. “Partynauseous” was rightfully left on the cutting room floor, but it at least carries a certain inherent frisson that those other artists could only dream of.
Kendrick and Gaga, for what it’s worth, seemed to have a genuine admiration for each other. I interviewed him in 2012, before the release of good kid, and when it seemed like a song with Gaga was certain to be released. “She’s a regular person. We became friends off of the genuine love for the music,” he told me. “She just hit my phone one day and said that she had a respect for the hip-hop that I was doing, that it wasn’t like anything she heard on the radio. Then chemistry collided from there.” He also called her “over-the-top creative,” and in apologizing again in 2012 for their collaborations never materializing, Gaga said, “I love Kendrick dearly as a friend.” In the summer of 2012, Gaga suddenly materialized at the year’s Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, of all places, where Kendrick, still not that big of a deal, was performing at a side stage. In order to catch his performance, a bodyguard hoisted her up and over a fence.
So maybe there is something serendipitous about Beyoncé’s pregnancy forcing the cancellation of her Coachella headlining set, which led to the booking of Gaga, who will perform on Saturday night, a day before Kendrick closes the festival. Maybe the two are no longer close, as can happen with friendships, but if they still keep in touch it would be fun to see them deliver on the promise of 2012, some five years later.