The Weeknd Fires Back at Criticism of 'The Idol': 'Hollywood Is a Dark Place'

The star is featured in the new issue of 'Vanity Fair' ahead of his series' Cannes premiere.

The Weeknd is speaking out against criticism surrounding his upcoming HBO Max series, The Idol, addressing creative shakeups and a lengthy report alleging that production had "gone wildly, disgustingly off the rails."

The 33-year-old pop star-turned-series creator opens up in a profile for Vanity Fair's new issue, on newsstands May 30, responding candidly to a March Rolling Stone article claiming that behind-the-scenes turmoil on the set included chaotic scheduling, going over budget and last-minute script changes and overhauls on graphically violent and sexual scenes.

By his estimation, The Weeknd -- whose birth name is Abel Tesfaye -- now says he interpreted the report's subtext as, "These are rapists trying to make a rape fantasy."

At the time the allegations were first published, Tesfaye responded by sharing a clip from the show in which his character deems Rolling Stone "irrelevant." 

"I thought the article was ridiculous," Tesfaye tells Vanity Fair. "I wanted to give a ridiculous response to it."

Meanwhile, Tesfaye remains unapologetic about the source material for the show. "I mean, this isn’t a secret," he says. "Hollywood is a dark place. Which makes for great art."

Rolling Stone's expose was followed by a report from Deadline in April, citing sources who claimed that Tesfaye felt the show was leaning too far into a "female perspective" at the helm of its original director, Amy Seimetz. Tesfaye's Idol co-creator, Euphoria's Sam Levison, directed a revamped version. 

"Shows get reshot every day," Tesfaye says, noting that he "actually really loved working with Amy." 

He blames scheduling conflicts and production timelines, along with a desire to not rush his first show, as the culprits behind a creative overhaul. Seimetz did not respond to Vanity Fair's request for comment. 

"What are you gonna do?" Tesfaye ponders, invoking the old adage: There's no such thing as bad press. "These are the trials and tribulations of it, and that's what the show is about."

Tesfaye plays Tedros, an enigmatic nightclub owner and cult-like leader who guides the life and career of Lily-Rose Depp's pop star character, Jocelyn. He insists to the magazine that the show remains rooted in its perspective with Depp as the lead, as it was written, and that he was not interested in co-starring as her counterpart until Levinson and others convinced him to take the role. He also describes Depp as the show's third creator. 

"I know it's easy for people to be like, 'Oh, he wanted to be the star,'" he says.

Approached for comment for the story by Vanity Fair, Depp echoed a similar sentiment to her original Rolling Stone response, stating, "I really and truly have never felt more like my opinions and my ideas or my input was more valued." 

She also references a levity to the show that audiences haven't yet seen. "What makes it work is its sense of humor," she shares, noting that "I think it's interesting that people have so much to say about the show already and they haven't even seen it." 

In addition to Tesfaye and Depp, the cast includes Suzanna Son, Troye Sivan, Moses Sumney, Jane Adams, Dan Levy, Jennie Ruby Jane, Eli Roth, Rachel Sennot, Hari Nef, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Mike Dean, and Blackpink member Jennie Kim.

The Idol is set to premiere at Cannes Film Festival this week, and begins streaming June 4 on Max.

The series debut comes amid something of an image overhaul for Tesfaye, who has been hinting that his run as his longtime stage persona, The Weeknd, could be coming to an end.

"I’m going through a cathartic path right now," the "Starboy" musician recently told W Magazine. "It’s getting to a place and a time where I’m getting ready to close the Weeknd chapter. I’ll still make music, maybe as Abel, maybe as The Weeknd. But I still want to kill The Weeknd. And I will. Eventually. I’m definitely trying to shed that skin and be reborn."

The Weeknd has been performing under the moniker since 2009. Through the duration of his career, the Toronto native has released five studio albums -- with four charting at No. 1. The singer has also won four GRAMMYs despite notably boycotting the awards in 2021.

While filming, Tesfaye says he faced the challenge of shooting a scene during his sold-out show at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

In the moment, the singer had to shift from his onstage persona to his character in the show -- who isn't someone who sells out arenas. The shift proved challenging and came with consequences.

"I had to take off the Weeknd outfit, put on Tedros’ wig, shoot with Jocelyn, then go back to being The Weeknd," he recalled to W. "It was tough to go from one head to another. Then, after the concert, I lost my voice. No voice came out at all. That’s never happened before."

He continued, "My theory is that I forgot how to sing because I was playing Tedros, a character who doesn’t know how to sing. I may be looking too deeply into this, but it was terrifying. As The Weeknd, I’ve never skipped a concert. I’ve performed with the flu. I’ll die on that stage. But there was something very complicated going on with my mind at that moment."

As for signing off as The Weeknd, the "Save Your Tears" musician suggests that he is putting his all into what could be his final project under the moniker.

"The album I’m working on now is probably my last hurrah as The Weeknd," he shared. "This is something that I have to do. As The Weeknd, I’ve said everything I can say."