The Idol reactions divided after Cannes audiences shocked by graphic drama
The Idol was condemned for its gratuitous nudity by some critics.
Please note: this article contains description of adult scenes unsuitable for younger readers
The Weeknd’s upcoming HBO series, The Idol, officially made its debut at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival on Monday (22nd May) – and it drew a mixed reaction, with some critics condemning it as “corrupt” and comparing it to pornography.
The Sam Levinson-produced series stars Lily-Rose Depp as a troubled popstar, Jocelyn, who falls prey to cult leader Tedros (The Weeknd).
The supporting cast includes Red Rocket's Suzanna Son, Troye Sivan, Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy, and Shiva Baby's Rachel Sennott.
According to Variety, there are several scenes of gratuitous nudity in the first two episodes, including one scene involving “masturbation with ice cubes” and another showing “revenge porn photos of bodily fluids on Depp’s face”.
Despite the series receiving a five-minute standing ovation following the screening of its first two episodes, critics shared their first reactions on social media – and many were quick to criticise the show.
“Levinson’s worldview seems corrupt,” said Variety’s Peter Debruge. “It shouldn’t take degradation and suffering to make Jocelyn stronger. Euphoria audiences won’t be too surprised by the shameful way he treats Depp’s character, as both she and the show appear trapped under The Weeknd’s thumb.”
New York Times’ Kyle Buchanan wrote: “The Idol, or 50 SHADES OF TESFAYE: A Pornhub-homepage odyssey starring Lily-Rose Depp’s areolas and The Weeknd’s greasy rat tail.
“Love that this will help launch the HBO Max rebrand, should slot nicely next to House Hunters!”
However, some were much more positive, with Discussing Film's Yasmine Kandil writing: "THE IDOL capture the glitz, glamour & exploitation of the music industry. Could be stellar if streamlined to be a story solely about artistic struggle and management interference without excessive sensuality.
"Undoubtably Lily-Rose Depp’s strongest performance to date."
The Idol has been the subject of controversy in recent months after a number of reported behind-the-scenes issues.
The series had been previously directed by Amy Seimetz but, in April 2022, Seimetz exited the project.
A statement from HBO (via The Hollywood Reporter) said at the time: "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."
In March, Rolling Stone alleged that after Seimetz’s departure, executive producer Levinson scrapped and reshot the entire series.
The article detailed a series of alleged troubles amid production, with sources involved in production telling the publication that the series veers towards “sexual torture porn” and that some scenes resemble “rape fantasy”.
HBO said in response to the claims: "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."
The Idol will air on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic and NOW in the UK – sign up for Sky TV here.
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