What's the controversy surrounding HBO's 'The Idol'?

A lot is happening at HBO. 'The Idol' starring Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd is causing a stir for its workplace toxicity and graphic nature

Lily-Rose Depp, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye HBO The Idol Season 1
(Image credit: Eddy Chen/HBO)

HBO is causing a stir with The Idol, and the series has yet to even premiere.

This fictional story of a damaged pop star comes on the heels of Daisy Jones & The Six, but takes a much darker approach to life in the spotlight. Now that the series trailer has just been released, the tension surrounding the creation of the show has reignited.

We'll fill you in on all that The Weeknd and Rolling Stone magazine's drama, the production delays and more.

HBO: 'The Idol' controversy, explained

In the lead role, Lily-Rose Depp portrays Jocelyn, a pop star who seemingly mirrors the likes of Britney Spears. (Fittingly, Spears' "Gimme More" is the song choice for the latest teaser trailer.) During Jocelyn's fall from grace, she crosses paths with a tainted nightclub owner and cult leader, Tedros (played by Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye) and falls completely under his toxic spell. 

Although The Idol was a raw premise to begin with, things supposedly took a turn when Euphoria's Sam Levinson replaced director Amy Seimetz. Not only did Levinson completely rework the show, which had allegedly been 80% completed by that point in April 2022, but he seemed to have been unfazed that nearly $75 million had already gone into the production. The script rewrites and reshoots that followed ultimately delayed filming.

"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," a spokeswoman for HBO told Deadline. "The production will be adjusting its cast and crew accordingly to best serve this new approach to the series."

But when a deep dive from Rolling Stone emerged in March 2023, 13 unnamed workers on the series revealed to the outlet that Levinson's vision became much more alarming, and they claimed there were "disturbing sexual and physically violent scenes" between Depp and The Weeknd. Per the article's claims, The Weeknd wanted to "tone down the cult aspect of the storyline and pivot into something entirely," which had allegedly scrapped the "'feminist lens' through which the show was [originally] being told."

Once the piece had been published, the two main actors behind Jocelyn's story spoke up. Depp revealed to People: "Never have I felt more supported or respected in a creative space."

The Weeknd, however, took a snarkier response and wrote, "@Rollingstone did we upset you?" on Twitter alongside a clip from the series that pokes fun at the music mag. 

HBO denied the claims that were raised by Rolling Stone and released a statement saying: "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."

Given the nature of Euphoria, we're not surprised another project of Levinson deals with heavy material. But when does art ultimately cross the line? We'll have to wait to find out.

Watch HBO's 'The Idol' trailer:

The Idol hits screens on June 4 at 9 pm ET/PT on HBO and will be available for streaming on Max.

Danielle Valente
Digital News Writer

Need a TV show recommendation? Maybe a few decor tips? Danielle, a digital news writer at Future, has you covered. Her work appears throughout the company’s lifestyle brands, including My Imperfect Life, Real Homes, and woman&home. Mainly, her time is spent at My Imperfect Life, where she’s attuned to the latest entertainment trends and dating advice for Gen Z.

Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids, where she got to experience the best of the city from the point of view of its littlest residents. Before that, she was a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, and amNewYork, to name a few. 

When Danielle’s not writing, you can find her testing out a new recipe, reading a book (suggestions always welcome), or rearranging the furniture in her apartment…again.