All the Controversy Behind HBO's 'The Idol,' Explained

Toxic set, degradation, and Sam Levinson: A breakdown of all the controversy behind HBO's 'The Idol.'


The Idol is not off to a good start. 

Not only did the show cause quite a stir at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in May, but it also dealt with previous reports about the set being a  toxic environment

The new drama, created by Sam Levinson and starring Lily-Rose Depp and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, debuts on HBO on June 4. The audience at Cannes already got a preview of the first two episodes and the reviews have been almost uniformly negative, citing a lack of substance and a full-frontal assault of gratuitous nudity and depraved, demeaning sex. 

"[It feels] nasty, brutish, much longer than it is, and way, way worse than you’d have anticipated," a Rolling Stone review said. "So much of it amounts to tawdry clichés lifted from Sidney Sheldon novels and softcore porn,” says Variety. One of the more withering assessments came from Time, whose review said that the show "only pretends to expose exploitation, while actually reveling in it." 

It begs the question: Did the creator intend for this result in full awareness of his hypocrisy? Or is this artistic malpractice—as if someone set out to film a subversive critique of the porn industry, and accidentally made porn?

Regardless, the controversy almost assures that The Idol will draw in eyeballs and ratings for the same reason that some people can’t look away from a car wreck. How did it come to this? And what implications does this have for HBO and for the creators, actors, and personalities involved in its creation? 

Here is everything you need to know about the controversy behind HBO's The Idol, ahead of its debut.

What is The Idol about?

Who's starring in The Idol?

Why did director Amy Seimetz leave The Idol?

What was the deal with the Rolling Stone report?

Twitter: @theweeknd
According to Rolling Stone, which spoke to 13 members of the cast and crew, roughly 80 percent of the show was complete when Seimetz left the project. Levinson, who took over as director, reportedly scrapped all of the work and began rewriting and reshooting the entire show.

The Rolling Stone report speaks to the flux on Seimetz's set. She was given unfinished scripts, and she needed to write and revise as she went along. Multiple sources felt that Seimetz had been saddled with an impossible task, given the budget, time, and high expectations.

Another rumor, substantiated by two different sources, is that The Weeknd disliked the amount of focus on Depp, and wanted the show to focus more on his character. He also favored de-emphasizing the cult aspect of his character, and focusing more on the romance between Jocelyn and Tedros.

The switch of directors also meant a massive turnover in crew, and several of the actors and extras who appeared in Seimetz's cut do not appear in Levinson's cut. Levinson kept most of the name actors, however, and he added additional ones, including Kim and Sivan.

In the wake of the report, HBO released a public statement, acknowledging the creative change in direction: “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."

How did the show become so sexual?

What does Sam Levinson say about this controversy?

How have the actors responded to these reports?

Does any of this affect Euphoria, or any of Levinson's other projects on the horizon?

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