The Weeknd defends new show amid ‘torture porn’ controversy: ‘The Idol’ drama explained

The Weeknd speaks out after Rolling Stone's article detailing the chaos of his new show The Idol.

The Weeknd speaks out after Rolling Stone‘s article detailing the chaos of his new show The Idol. (Photo: Reuters)

Abel “the Weeknd” Tesfaye responded to Rolling Stone‘s report claiming his highly-anticipated HBO show, The Idol, “has gone wildly, disgustingly off the rails.” But the superstar did not refute some of the article’s disturbing claims — like that he and co-creator, Euphoria‘s Sam Levinson, are making a series depicting “sexual torture porn” — but instead, fired off a video calling the publication uncool. While sources tell Yahoo Entertainment that some of the content in the Rs story “is pretty accurate,” others paint a different picture of what’s been going on behind-the-scenes.

On Wednesday afternoon, Tesfaye tweeted a clip from The Idol of his and Lily-Rose Depp’s characters calling Rs “irrelevant.” In the series, the singer plays a modern-day cult leader named Tedros while Depp is Jocelyn, his pop star love interest. The clip shows them talking to an agent type (played by Dan Levy) who’s trying to convince Jocelyn to shoot a cover for the magazine.

“I feel like it might be kind of past its prime,” says Jocelyn.

“Yeah, nobody cares about Rolling Stone,” adds Tedros.

Tesfaye, who has over 17 million followers on Twitter, tagged Rs and wrote, “Did we upset you?”

Depp shared the same video on her Instagram account.

So, what exactly got the actors riled up? Let’s unpack all the drama surrounding The Idol.

Rolling Stone claims The Idol is in turmoil — and the content is troubling

On Wednesday morning, Rs posted his story “The Idol: How HBO’s Next Euphoria Became Twisted ‘Torture Porn.'” The article featured interviews with 13 members of the show’s cast and crew, all of whom remained anonymous. They dished about the alleged havoc that’s ensued since Levinson took the reins from director Amy Seimetz during a shakeup last spring. .

“It was, let’s just say, as*** show,” one person claimed.

While the article detailed how the production’s been plagued by reshoots and rewrites, causing serious delays, the disturbing accusations involve the shift in content.

Four sources alleged Levinson’s created a degrading love story that multiple crew members found offensive. Seimetz’s version was more “about a troubled starlet falling victim to a predatory industry figure and fighting to reclaim her own agency.” Now, one production member claimed: “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.”

Here’s one of the more concerning excerpts from the story:

At various points, Levinson’s scripts contained disturbing sexual and physically violent scenes between Depp and Tesfaye’s characters, three sources familiar with the matter claim. In one draft episode, there was allegedly a scene where Tesfaye bashes in Depp’s face, and her character smiles and asks to be beaten more, giving Tesfaye an erection. (This scene was never shot, the source says.) Another proposed scenario was for Depp to carry an egg in her vagina and if she dropped or cracked the egg, Tesfaye’s character would refuse to ‘rape’ her — which sent Depp’s character into a spiral, begging him to ‘rape’ her because she believed he was the key to her success. (This scene also was not filmed because production could not find a way to realistically shoot the scene without having Depp physically insert the egg, another source explains.)

Yes, The Idol has been “pretty chaotic”

One source with knowledge of production issues over the past two years acknowledges to Yahoo that the set has been “pretty chaotic” at times, causing some cast and crew members to grow “increasingly frustrated.” Yahoo spoke with two people who called the Rs article “pretty accurate” with one emphasizing, “Yeah, it’s been a s***show at times.”

However, a network source pushes back and tells Yahoo that while some of what has been written for the show “pushes boundaries,” it’s “unfair” to categorize the show as “sexual torture porn.”

“Sure, it makes a good headline, but there’s no way all of these 13 ‘sources’ have seen any kind of finished product,” the insider declares.

This isn’t the first time Levinson’s faced criticism

Last year, amide Euphoria‘s wildly successful second season, Levinson found himself the subject of scrutiny as critics claimed the show featured too many gratuitous nudity features teenagers. Days on set were purportedly long and exhausting. It took two years for viewers to get a second season as the direction of the season seemed to change a lot in real time. Even Levinson has admitted his “writing process is pretty bizarre.”

Actress Barbie Ferreira, whose body positive character Kat was a big part of Euphoria‘s first season, allegedly “stormed off” set and Levinson cut back her screen time after they disagreed about her Kat’s arc. Actress Sydney Sweeney told a reporter she had to push back on some unnecessary shirtless scenes and guest star Minka Kelly confirmed she asked Levinson to change a scripted nude scene because she didn’t feel “comfortable” with it.

The Weeknd “is happy” with Levinson and the new direction of The Idol

A source tells Yahoo there is “no conflict” between Tesfaye and Levinson. In fact, the musician thinks Levinson’s vision for their show is better than the direction Seimetz was taking The Idol.

That’s somewhat in line with a Deadline report from April, when signs of internal conflict first spilled out into the public, that claimed Tesfaye wanted a creative overhaul as he felt the show was leaning too much into a “female perspective.” However, the insider close to production tells Yahoo “it’s not exactly accurate” to categorize the issues he had like that.

“The show is still very much about [Lily-Rose’s] character and she’s been an integral part of the creative process,” the source adds.

Lily-Rose Depp is speaking out

Aside from sharing the clip, the actress issued a statement in support of Levinson amid the Rs drama.

“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,” she tells Yahoo. “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.”

HBO is standing by The Idoltoo

A spokesperson for the network issued the following statement to Yahoo:

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.

Oath Rolling Stone is standing by its report

Editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman replied on Tesfaye’s Did we upset you?” tweet.

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