Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd’s controversial new series The Idol will hit HBO Max in June.


The Sam Levinson-produced series centres on Lily-Rose Depp as a troubled popstar, Jocelyn, who falls prey to cult leader Tedros (The Weeknd).

Also starring in the series are a host of acting and music names including Suzanna Son, Troye Sivan, Moses Sumney, Jane Adams, Dan Levy, Jennie Kim, Eli Roth, Rachel Sennott, Hari Nef, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Mike Dean, Ramsey, and Hank Azaria.

However, The Idol has been stirring up controversy for months, and its recent premiere at Cannes Film Festival on Monday (22nd May) only fanned the flames, with many critics condemning the show as “shameful” and “corrupt” and comparing it to pornography.

Fans of Levinson’s hit series Euphoria will no doubt have been expecting some explicit content, but he seems to have dramatically ramped up scenes of that nature in The Idol.

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So, what is the controversy behind the upcoming series The Idol? Read on for everything you need to know.

Why did Amy Seimetz leave The Idol?

In April 2022, Deadline reported that Tesfaye was unhappy with the “female perspective” of the show, despite episodes worth of content having already been filmed.

Seimetz, who was set to direct all episodes of the series, left, as did actress Suzanna Son, and the show went into a state of major creative overhaul.

“The Idol’s creative team continues to build, refine, and evolve their vision for the show and they have aligned on a new creative direction. The production will be adjusting its cast and crew accordingly to best serve this new approach to the series. We look forward to sharing more information soon,” an HBO spokeswoman told Deadline at the time.

What is the controversy with The Idol?

The cast of The Idol
The cast of The Idol. HBO/YouTube

The Idol is an upcoming drama series on HBO from music artist The Weeknd, Reza Fahim, and Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson.

The Weeknd, full name Abel Tesfaye, is also the leading man of the drama as a cult leader in the entertainment industry, with Lily-Rose Depp portraying one of his followers and an aspiring singer.

The series had been previously directed by Amy Seimetz with Depp's role as the key protagonist, however, Seimetz exited the project.

Last year, a statement from HBO said (via The Hollywood Reporter): "The Idol’s creative team continues to build, refine, and evolve their vision for the show and they have aligned on a new creative direction.

"The production will be adjusting its cast and crew accordingly to best serve this new approach to the series. We look forward to sharing more information soon."

Sam Levinson attends the 2023 KODAK Film Awards at ASC Clubhouse on February 26, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Sam Levinson. Leon Bennett/Getty Images

Subsequently, Rolling Stone reported on the production and alleged that after Seimetz's departure, executive producer Sam Levinson scrapped the nearly completed shoot for the "$54-75 million project" and rewrote and reshot the entire series.

Rolling Stone claims that other individuals in the production felt alienated by Levinson and Tesfaye's changes, with them dubbing some scenes "a rape fantasy" and said that some shoots "went from satire to the thing it was satirizing".

A source told the publication that Tesfaye wanted to "tone down the cult aspect of the storyline and pivot into something else entirely, dropping the ‘feminist lens’ through which the show was being told as a result".

Since the report, Rolling Stone appeared to be called out directly by Tesfaye himself.

How has The Weeknd responded to The Idol controversy?

The Weeknd in The Idol
The Weeknd as Tedros in The Idol. HBO/YouTube

The Weeknd took to Twitter and tagged Rolling Stone with a video of a scene from The Idol featuring himself and Depp opposite actor Dan Levy as an agent, discussing the magazine itself as they contemplate a magazine shoot.

In the scene, Tesfaye's character describes the magazine as "irrelevant".

The singer-actor Tweeted: ".@RollingStone did we upset you?"

The response from the artist has prompted some criticism on social media, with multiple users, including a Rolling Stone employee, sharing examples of The Weeknd appearing on Rolling Stone covers.

For example, Rolling Stone's editor Noah Shachtman Tweeted in response with covers of the magazine featuring Tesfaye and penned: "Not at all!"

How has HBO and others responded?

Lily-Rose Depp in The Idol
Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn in The Idol. HBO/YouTube

HBO itself has now released a statement on the report from Rolling Stone and the claims therein.

It reads: "The creators and producers of The Idol have been working hard to create one of HBO’s most exciting and provocative original programs.

"The initial approach on the show and production of the early episodes, unfortunately, did not meet HBO standards so we chose to make a change.

"Throughout the process, the creative team has been committed to creating a safe, collaborative, and mutually respectful working environment, and last year, the team made creative changes they felt were in the best interest of both the production and the cast and crew. We look forward to sharing The Idol with audiences soon."

Actress Lily-Rose Depp also released a statement in defence of Sam Levinson and the series's production,

Depp stated: "Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space, my input and opinions more valued.

"Working with Sam is a true collaboration in every way – it matters to him, more than anything, not only what his actors think about the work, but how we feel performing it. He hires people whose work he esteems and has always created an environment in which I felt seen, heard and appreciated."

Speaking at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2023, Levinson denied the allegations in the Rolling Stone report, saying: "It felt completely foreign to me. My only slight grievance is they intentionally omitted anything that didn’t fit their narrative. We’ve seen a lot of that recently."

He added: "When my wife read me the article, I looked at her and I said, ‘I think we’re about to have the biggest show of the summer.' We know we’re making a show that is provocative. It’s not lost on us."

The Idol will be released on HBO in the US and on Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK – sign up for Sky TV here. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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