CANNES, FRANCE: Within the first minute of Sam Levinson’s controversial new series The Idol, Lily-Rose Depp quiets any critic who dare utter the term “nepo baby.”
“Give me vulnerable,” a photographer tells mono-monikered pop star Jocelyn (Depp) as she writhes on top of a coffee table in a barely-there red satin brunch-coat, cigarette in hand. “Give me sad. Give me excited.”
At this close crop, Depp’s beautiful, seamless transitions between emotions — and thus her versatility as an actress — are realized entirely by her doe eyes. It’s a prelude to the riveting performance you can expect from the 23-year-old in Euphoria‘s Sam Levinson’s sordid tale of Hollywood’s wild, lurid underbelly; the publicity machine, the exploitation, the hedonism, the sex, the sex, the sex.
Jocelyn’s inner circle consists of a group of “yes” people who have little care for their star’s mental health: co-managers Chaim (Hank Azaria who still sits in my head rent-free as Phoebe Buffay’s ex-boyfriend who went to Minsk) and Destiny (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), publicist (Dan Levy), creative director Xander (Australia’s Troye Sivan), best friend/assistant Leila (Rachel Sennott), and the no-nonsense label exec Nikki (Jane Adams). Indeed, the latter is the only one who ever says no to the pop star.
When a compromising picture of Jocelyn in a sex act leaks online, the team go into damage control. “How are 14-year-old girls going to buy tickets to the concert when she’s frosted like a Pop Tart?” remarks a Live Nation rep (played by Eli Roth). When Jocelyn — who has been recovering from a psychotic break post the death of her mother — finds out about the picture, she… hits the club. And it’s here she meets industry fringe player Tedros (Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye who also serves as a producer on the series).
Somehow — and it’s not made clear how — there’s a connection between these two. As though he has caught Jocelyn at the exact degree of recklessness needed to pursue her, Tedros infiltrates the young pop star’s mind in the most predatory of ways. Soon, they are hooking up in the stairwell. Soon after, he is tying a scarf around Jocelyn’s head, choking her and cutting a hole in said scarf so she can breathe, while rubbing ice between her legs.
If you haven’t caught on yet, Levinson’s lens is shot for the male gaze. Depp is seen in compromising positions constantly — and when she masturbates, we never see her achieve pleasure — surely a far-cry from the direction the show was originally meant to take when it first started shooting under a female director. In April 2022, Amy Seimetz of The Girlfriend Experience suddenly exited the project with reportedly a near 80 percent of the six-episode series finished. There was little explanation behind the sudden departure, other than Tesfaye allegedly citing the script was leaning too far into the “female perspective,” a claim he has since fervently denied.
“I originally wanted to make a dark twisted fairy tale about the music industry and everything I know about it — and heighten it,” Tesfaye, 33, told the press in Cannes. “When I found out how much Sam is involved with the music in Euphoria, that’s when it really unlocked it for the both of us. [We wanted to create something that was] special, daring, exciting, fun, made people laugh, and pissed some people off — that was the initial thought.”
“We live in a very sexualized world… where the influence of pornography is really strong in terms of the psyche of young people. And we see this in pop music,” added Levinson.
“I think that the way [Jocelyn] dresses is her trying to tell you something…or express something in some kind of way,” says Depp, who, like Tesfaye, arrived at the press conference with black sunglasses on. “I also think the occasional bareness of the character physically mirrors the bareness we get to see emotionally in her–and that was something I thought was very important to the character. When it comes to all of that stuff, I’ve never felt more involved in those kinds of conversations.”
Take away the controversies, you have a good show — and one that yes men will tell you received a five-minute standing ovation at its May 22 premiere here in Cannes. (Note: just like in the bedroom, five-minutes isn’t that long in the land of Cannes!)
At least in the first two episodes, the fixation on Depp’s body feels too voyeuristic to be comfortable viewing. Here’s hoping change is on the way for the remainder of the season.
The Idol premieres on HBO Max on June 4.