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Fame, Fortune, and Fantasy: A24 Presents The Weeknd and Sam Levinson’s ‘The Idol’

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Set to be released as an HBO TV series, “The Idol trails the events of Jocelyn (Lily Rose-Depp), a rising pop star who develops a strained relationship with a self-help guru and modern cult leader (The Weeknd). 

Led by the backdrop of Hollywood’s ruthless music industry, A24’s upcoming film glamorizes the deadening pursuit of fame and fortune. The 90-second teaser lures audiences in with over 1.5 million views since its July 17 release. 

“The Idoloriginates from the self-proclaimed “sick and twisted minds” of Canadian singer Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) and “Euphoriamastermind Sam Levinson. Spearheaded by the two, The Weeknd is involved in almost every element of the series’ production as co-creator, co-writer, executive producer, and lead actor. 

Alluding to a film of mesmerizing cinematics, the trailer leads with an illusive color palette of 1990s vintage effects paired with neon color waves that complement the series’ romanticism of money and power. The embellishment of uncanny dance sequences, seductive nightlife scenes, drug use, and power abuse are all topped off with Levinson’s over-sexualization of women that echo his trademarks in “Euphoria. With such questionable elements, the series has since drawn criticism for having such suggestive components at the forefront of the work itself.

Alongside The Weeknd and Lily-Rose Depp, Troye Sivan and Blackpink’s Jennie join the show’s star-studded cast. The talent complementing the film’s two leads ironically exemplifies their own  experiences within the narcotic limelight of cutthroat music industries.  

Jennie, most notably, is one of many Korean-Pop idols. Mental health advocacy or even conversations regarding mental health challenges is often considered taboo in Korea. Many recording artists who battle depression whilst living in the spotlight are left with nowhere to turn. The pressure to maintain a spotless, wholesome image while also maintaining one’s position in a fiercely competitive market puts a strain on many K-pop idols.

As the series faces frequent script revisions, details of Jennie’s character have yet to be released. Despite this, Jennie’s participation in the series itself acts as a mirror to its core conceptual elements. 

As her role remains unknown, audiences have found it intriguing how the singer decided to take on the role given such taboo notions surrounding mental health in Korea — considering that she herself is a Korean star. Jennie’s overall presence as a cast member exemplifies the cutthroat and detrimental parallels between the reality of the music industry the show aims to spotlight whilst paying homage to the experiences of the actors’ own.

Levinson’s messages of money, power, and glory, have been critiqued for having unnecessary involvement and implicit encouragement of the hypersexualization of women. Such remarks are neither new nor normative within his repertoire of cinematic works — most notably being “Euphoria.” 

Aside from its subjectivity and exploitation of the female body, the star-studded cast has raised many remarks of the integrity of the series itself. With Hollywood’s infamous nepotism baby Lily-Rose Depp at the forefront of the film, alongside many other reputable musicians and actors, audiences have since made remarks of the almost juxtaposing series itself — exemplifying stories of hardship and exploitation in pursuit of fame, portrayed by those who have been handed it. 

Since its teaser release, The Weeknd — apart from his co-creators — was believed to be dissatisfied with the creative direction of the program, despite already having shot four to five episodes.

“‘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,” an HBO spokesperson told Deadline in April. “The production will be adjusting its cast and crew accordingly to best serve this new approach to the series.”

As the cast and crew continue to reconfigure the show midway through production, the series has also encountered other obstacles in its development. Although the show’s initial plot centered the young female and her developments with the elusive LA nightclub owner, The Weeknd’s character was soon modified to become a self-help guru and cult leader, substantially changing the course of the plot. Emerging production sources claim that The Weeknd was not satisfied with the series’s trajectory in its current shape, suggesting that it should solely follow his character.

Given this, the release date still remains unknown as the teaser offered the vague promise that the series would be “coming soon.”

Leda Abkenari is a 2022–2023 City News Editor. She can be reached at citynews@newuniverity.org.