The Weeknd has responded to a new Rolling Stone report about his upcoming HBO series The Idol, which details co-creator (and Euphoria head) Sam Levinson suddenly taking creative control and completely derailing the series’ message and hyper-sexualizing its characters. Rather than listening to the feedback, however, the artist tweeted the publication a video from the series itself, in which his character calls Rolling Stone “irrelevant.”
“Did we upset you?” The Weeknd (born Abel Tesfaye) tweeted, as if the publication cooked up the report in response to the character’s criticism. In reality, the piece paints Tesfaye and Levinson as un-collaborative creators and poor leaders at best, and shadowy, predatory figures at worst.
The Idol stars Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn, a rising pop star who falls into a complicated relationship with Tedros (Tesfaye), the owner of an LA nightclub who doubles a cult leader. According to Rolling Stone’s sources, the show was meant to be a satire of the industry and follow Depp’s character as she gains her independence in a world that hinges on abuse. Amy Seimetz (The Girlfriend) was on board as the director, but last year she suddenly exited the project, when 80 percent of the six-episode season was reportedly complete.
After Seimetz’s exit, Levinson took creative control, reportedly using his star power as the creator of Euphoria to completely rewrite and reshoot the series. Tesfaye allegedly felt The Idol was taking on too much of a “female perspective,” and Levinson subsequently overhauled the story by focusing on his love story with Jocelyn — by increasing the series’ number of degrading sex scenes and reducing Jocelyn’s arc toward independence.
Even before Levinson took over, crew members recalled a chaotic set. Scripts weren’t completed while Seimetz was directing, and Seimetz herself worked on writing the season finale during shooting. Sources describe numerous script changes and recall hearing at the last minute that stories were changing and being removed. Still, Levinson spent millions of dollars (the exact number is unknown) reshooting the series, transforming it from a feminist tale into what one crew member described as “sexual torture porn.”
“What I signed up for was a dark satire of fame and the fame model in the 21st century,” one production member said. “The things that we subject our talent and stars to, the forces that put people in the spotlight and how that can be manipulated in the post-Trump world.” Instead “It went from satire to the thing it was satirizing.”
It’s unknown when The Idol will finally premiere, and what exactly will appear in the show when it does. Crew members described disturbing scenes in various scripts that were never actually shot, and say scenes were reshot so many times that any combination of takes could appear in the official show. After being ordered to series in November 2021, HBO hoped The Idol would premiere in 2022, but now only teases the program as dropping “later this year.”
Both HBO and Depp have also addressed the Rolling Stone report. “The creators and producers of The Idol have been working hard to create one of HBO’s most exciting and provocative original programs,” HBO said. “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.”
Depp, meanwhile, said Levinson “is, for so many reasons, the best director I have ever worked with. 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.”
Read Rolling Stone’s full report on the chaotic The Idol set here, and see The Weeknd’s response to the story below.
— The Weeknd (@theweeknd) March 1, 2023