In November 2021, HBO ordered a series called The Idol, which was created by The Weeknd, his producing partner Reza Fahim, and Euphoria’s Sam Levinson.
The show is centered on the relationship between a pop star, played by Lily-Rose Depp, and a LA club owner and cult leader, played by The Weeknd.
Initially, Amy Seimetz was attached to direct the project but in April 2022 — following months of shooting — Sam took over as the director.
At the time, it was reported that The Weeknd was unhappy with the “female perspective” that centered Lily-Rose’s character, and reshoots were ordered.
The first trailer for The Idol dropped in July, and it advertised the series as being “from the Gutters of Hollywood” and by “the sick & twisted minds” of Sam and The Weeknd.
And on Wednesday, the show was hit with scandal when Rolling Stone published a damning report based on interviews with 13 members of the cast and crew.
The exposé detailed a tumultuous creative process and questionable rewrites, with the project being described as “sexual torture porn.”
Describing Sam’s vision for the show, one source told the publication: “It was like any rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show — and then the woman comes back for more because it makes her music better.”
The Weeknd is also said to have wanted reshoots in order to drop the “feminist lens,” and Sam allegedly supported the star’s desire to make “one show that was all about him.”
Despite a wrap party in July, The Idol continued shooting through October, and some members of cast and crew were alarmed by the content that was being added.
"It was a show about a woman who was finding herself sexually, turned into a show about a man who gets to abuse this woman and she loves it,” one person told Rolling Stone.
The rewrites are said to have included “extreme” sexual and violent content. One scene that was allegedly shot shows Lily-Rose’s character getting hit in the face by The Weeknd before asking him to beat her more, giving his character an erection.
A scene that did not end up being filmed would have shown Lily-Rose’s character being told to carry an egg in her vagina. If it broke, then The Weeknd’s character would refuse to “rape” her, leading to her begging to be raped because she believes it is the cause of her success.
The reason that this wasn’t shot was allegedly due to the logistics, with it being claimed that Lily-Rose would have had to actually insert the egg in order for the scene to be effective.
“It was like sexual torture porn," one source claimed. Another agreed: “There is no point. They’re just trying to see how much of a reaction they can get.”
After Rolling Stone’s report broke, many immediately drew parallels between The Idol and Sam’s work on Euphoria. He has been heavily criticized for the sexualized nature of the HBO show, which stars Zendaya and premiered in 2019.
Over the years, Sam has been accused of including gratuitous nudity throughout the series, and several cast members have come forward to reveal that they’d requested a reduction in explicit scenes.
“i’m not surprised about sam levinson weird ass because euphoria quite literally opened with a r*pe scene like??? what is wrong with him,” one tweet read.
Someone else added: “I'm sorry but I'm not surprised sam Levinson is a creep like you how can you watch euphoria and go ‘yup this is totally a normal thing for a 38 year old man to write.’”
But Lily-Rose was quick to defend Sam and has insisted that she felt “supported” and “respected” throughout the shoot.
In a statement that was provided by HBO, the actor said: “Sam 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,” she went on. “He hires people whose work he esteems and has always created an environment in which I felt seen, heard, and appreciated.”
Meanwhile, some have pointed out that The Weeknd is just as culpable as Sam, with one writing: “Everyone rightfully getting on Sam levinson but we have to also put the blame on the weeknd for making room for him to do this. None of this would have happened if Abel didn’t fire the female director cause he didn’t like the fact the show focused on the ‘female perspective.’”
Someone else tweeted: “ppl letting the weeknd off a little too easy in all this idol shit like yes sam levinson added those scenes but the weeknd okay-ed all of them AND was the driving force behind firing amy seimetz bc he wanted the show to be less ‘feminist’”
And there was further backlash when the singer responded to Rolling Stone’s grave claims by posting a clip of his The Idol character, branding the publication “irrelevant” to his social media pages. He captioned the video: “.@RollingStone did we upset you?”
But his followers were not amused, with one replying: “You probably think this is a cute response. But honestly, it's just cringe. The whole situation sounds really sordid and toxic. Not to mention, deeply misogynistic.”
One more agreed: “So a journalist calling out concerns about the treatment of women on a show is something to joke about? Gross.”
Someone else summarized: “the idol fiasco especially alarming because it shows that men can really just drop in on a whim and ruin a woman’s entire work. fuck abel fuck sam levinson and fuck HBO.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, HBO admitted that The Idol’s production did not initially “meet HBO standards,” which led to changes being made.
They said: “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,” they added. “We look forward to sharing The Idol with audiences soon.”