Euphoria creator’s new HBO show The Idol draws scandalous reactions after Cannes premiere

Lily Rose Depp and The Weeknd in stills from The Idol trailer.

Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd’s controversial new series, The Idol, premiered at Cannes Film Festival yesterday (22 May) – to an often-outraged response.

The series, directed by Euphoria’s Sam Levison, centres on Depp as vulnerable, upcoming pop star Jocelyn, and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye as an exploitative modern-day cult leader, who seems all too eager to steer her on a path to destruction. 

Queer actors Hari Nef, Troye Sivan and Dan Levy also star in the HBO drama.

The Idol has drawn hefty criticism and endless debate ever since The Weeknd announced it was in development in 2021, with claims of a “toxic” set and a storyline that amounts to nothing but “disturbing sexual content”, according to a Rolling Stone investigation.

HBO has since stressed the set was a “mutually respectful working environment”.

However, the claim of borderline inappropriate sexual content seems to hold some weight, if the early reaction from Cannes is anything to go by.

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According to Variety, the first two episodes of the six-part series, which will air on 4 June, feature revenge porn photos of Jocelyn with semen on her face, and masturbating with ice cubes. Fans of Levison’s explicit teen series Euphoria will have been expecting a nude scene or two, but The Idol seems to be taking it further.

The Hollywood Reporter suggests that there is rarely a scene that doesn’t end up showing “flashes of [Depp’s] breasts or a*s”, while The New York Times described the episodes as a “Pornhub-homepage odyssey” that stars more of Depp’s “areolas” than the actress herself.

Reporters live-tweeting the reaction have confirmed that The Idol will without doubt be this year’s most talked-about series, even if it is, as one alleged viewer deemed it, “garbage”.

Variety has detailed reactions from those who saw the screening, including those who said they “hated it”, with one allegedly referring to it as “the TV version of clickbait” and another who reportedly said they “don’t need to see any more of Lily-Rose Depp naked”.

Despite those reported responses, the series also received a five-minute standing ovation from those who saw it. In Cannes context, a standing ovation is pretty commonplace – Shrek received a 10-minute round of applause when it premiered.

For a series that is seemingly based on the exploitation of young noughties stars and their culminating mental-health issues, such as Britney Spears or Amanda Bynes, the expectation was that it would shine a light on Hollywood corruption.

This is, according to reviews, achieved in the sense that Jocelyn is subjected to “constant sexual and financial exploitation”, although Variety reports that narrative swiftly becomes a “shameful” tale of “degradation” and “suffering” that is more like a “sordid male fantasy” than an exposé of Hollywood’s seedy underbelly.

The Weeknd slammed by fans for response to The Idol allegations. (HBO_@TheWeeknd_Twitter_Getty)
The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp in The Idol. (HBO_@TheWeeknd_Twitter_Getty)

Considering how much The Idol has embedded itself in controversy so far, perhaps the initial reaction isn’t unexpected. In addition to Rolling Stone’s revelations, last year the original director Amy Seimetz left the show due to “creative changes” in direction.

According to reports at the time, The Weeknd felt the series was focusing too much on the “female perspective,” although the musician has since refuted the claim.

The Idol airs on HBO and Max on 4 June in the US and on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV in the UK.