The series, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month, stars Lily Rose-Depp as Jocelyn, a pop star trying to make a comeback after a nervous breakdown, and Abel Tesfaye (aka The Weekend) as a nightclub manager and self-help guru working with her to achieve said comeback. It was created by Sam Levinson (Euphoria), Tesfaye and Reza Fahim.
Early on, the promotional materials for the show leaned into its edginess, calling Levinson and Tesfaye “the sick & twisted minds” behind “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood” in a teaser. But then the show became the subject of unfavorable attention when Rolling Stone published an expose calling the show a “rape fantasy” and alleging that it went “wildly, disgustingly off the rails” after cast changes and the departure of original director Amy Seimetz.
In her review of the show, The Hollywood Reporter critic Lovia Gyarkye noted that in one scene, a label executive is arguing with Jocelyn’s creative director, who’s against her baring her breast for the album cover shoot: “She tells him to ‘stop cockblocking America.’ That brief moment announces the show’s intention and puts a metaphorical hand up at incoming haters: Sex sells, and The Idol revels in that.”
In an interview published by The New York Times over the weekend and conducted at Cannes last month, Tesfaye, Depp and Levinson defended the series and urged people to watch with an open mind, but noted that they never intended to make a family show.
“We always knew that we were going to make something that was going to be provocative and perhaps not for everyone. That was a draw for all of us,” said Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis. “I don’t think any of us were interested in making anything that was going to be, you know, fun for the whole family.”
Tesfaye agreed with that sentiment.
“When I first started making music, it was the exact same thing,” he said. “It was provocative, and I knew it was going to be tough for people. And a lot of people didn’t like it. Not to compare it, but I feel that this is kind of like that again. This is not going to be for everybody, and that’s fine. We’re not politicians.”
The Idol also features a great deal of nudity as well as a Black man (Tesfaye) as the villain. Levinson, Depp and Tesfaye also defended those choices.
“There are many women who have felt exploited by the nudity they’ve done and have thought, I didn’t feel great about that,” Depp said. “But I’m comfortable performing in that way, I enjoy it. It informed the character. In the conversation around the risqué aspects, there’s the implication that it’s something being consistently imposed upon women. Obviously, that has been true a lot historically.”
Levinson added that the nudity adds to the audience’s perception that Jocelyn is a victim.
“I believe people will underestimate Jocelyn as a character because of how exposed she is,” he added.
As for stereotypes around race, Levinson said that viewers need to watch to see how the storyline plays out.
“Playing into those stereotypes in the first couple of episodes is important for the journey and the arc and the emotional experience,” Levinson said. “It has a way of disorienting us because of our knowledge of who we are, and what has happened in the world. I think the audience will slowly begin to see who the true villain of the piece is.”
Added Tesfaye: “They just need to see the whole show.”