The Weeknd‘s visuals and music videos have always been somewhat of a cinematic experience, especially during his conceptual After Hours era. Now, he’s taking his onscreen storytelling to the next level.
The musician, born Abel Tesfaye, is developing, co-writing, and starring in The Idol, a series for HBO. Created with Euphoria helmer Sam Levinson and Tesfaye’s creative producer, Reza Fahim, the drama will follow a female pop singer who “starts a romance with an enigmatic L.A. club owner who is the leader of a secret cult,” according to the log line. Consider us intrigued.
HBO just announced that it has green-lit the show for a six-episode season, to be filmed in and around L.A. “When the multi-talented Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye, Reza Fahim and Sam Levinson brought us The Idol, it was clear their subversive, revelatory take on the cult of the music industry was unlike anything HBO had ever done before. Shortly after, the brilliant duo of Joe Epstein and Amy Seimetz joined forces with the rest of the team, and this dream became a reality,” Francesca Orsi, executive vice president of HBO drama programming, said in a statement.
Here’s what we know about the series so far.
The series will premiere on June 4, 2023.
The long-awaited, controversial series finally has a premiere date, ahead of its world-premiere screening at the Cannes Film Festival. HBO dropped the news along with an official trailer soundtracked by Britney Spears’ “Gimme More,” with the two-minute clip giving a hint of the show’s plot as pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) falls under Tedros’ (Tesfaye) spell.
A previous trailer gave a glimpse at the show’s star studded cast and eerie energy.
The Idol follows a young star who falls for a mysterious cult leader.
Tesfaye revealed an exclusive first look at the upcoming show during New Jersey stop on his “After Hours Til Dawn” tour. The clip (seen below) teases the story from the “twisted minds” of Levinson and Tesfaye, following a pop star (played by Lily-Rose Depp) who gets sucked into an Tesfaye’s character’s orbit.
During a montage of parties, rehearsals, and studio sessions, we get a peek into the young star’s psyche, as she says that “nothing about her is relatable.” Later, when asked if she trusts the cult leader, her answer is, “Not really.”
The Weeknd also shared a closer look at himself in character for the series following the teaser trailer’s release.
The series faces serious allegations after a creative overhaul.
In a Rolling Stone report released last March, several sources close to The Idol claimed that the show went “wildly, disgustingly off the rails” behind the scenes as production was plagued with numerous delays and rewrites. Though The Girlfriend Experience director Amy Seimetz initially worked on the project, reportedly completing a majority of the six-episode series, she exited the show in April 2022, amid reports at the time that claimed Tesfaye felt the series was leaning too much into a “female perspective.”
Upon Seimetz’s exit, Levinson stepped in as director, reportedly “scrapping the nearly-finished $54-75 million project to rewrite and reshoot the entire thing.” The director allegedly took the show in a more sexually “disturbing” and less feminist direction that has been criticized as “rape fantasy…torture porn,” with Jocelyn embracing the abusive Tedros to improve her music.
Both HBO and Depp released statements refuting the piece, with Tesfaye posting a response in the form of a clip from the series itself. Depp’s statement defended Levinson and called her work with him a “true collaboration,” per Variety. Meanwhile, HBO’s statement read, “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.”
The cast includes The Weeknd, Lily-Rose Depp, and Troye Sivan.
The Idol has tapped a roster of rising actors and a real-life musician for the series. Along with Tesfaye, Depp (The King) will play an up-and-coming pop idol who gets ensnared in a “complicated relationship” with the cult leader. Singer-songwriter Troye Sivan will also join as a series regular.
A new teaser (seen above) reveals the rest of the truly stacked cast, which includes Suzanna Son (Red Rocket), singer Moses Sumney, Jane Adams (Hacks), Dan Levy (Schitt’s Creek), Eli Roth (Inglorious Basterds), Rachel Sennot (Bodies Bodies Bodies), Hari Nef (Transparent), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (High Fidelity), star producer Mike Dean, Ramsey, Hank Azaria, and BLACKPINK member Jennie, going by Jennie Ruby Jane.
Related article: The Weeknd Delivers an Explosive Super Bowl Halftime Show
The series has a heavy-hitter production team.
Some of the producers involved in the series include Ashley Levinson (Malcolm & Marie, Bombshell), Kevin Turen (Those Who Wish Me Dead), Aaron L. Gilbert (Joker), and Reza Fahim (The Weeknd’s producing partner and co-creator of the series). Co-executive producers are Wassim “SAL” Slaiby, La Mar C. Taylor (Tesfaye’s creative director and XO Records cofounder), and Mary Laws (Succession), who’s also writing.
Tesfaye isn’t exactly a stranger to the big screen. He appeared in the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems in 2019 as a 2012 version of himself. As for TV, he wrote and guest-starred in an episode of American Dad in 2020.
The Idol news arrives after a big year for Tesfaye, who headlined at the 2021 Super Bowl Halftime Show, broke records on the Billboard charts, and famously called out the Grammy Awards for “corruption” after he and other artists were snubbed from the latest ceremony. Last March, he announced he will no longer submit his music for Grammys consideration. With his new show in the works, might he be gunning for an Emmy instead?
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.