HBO’s new drama series The Idol has been making headlines for its controversial sex scenes, star-studded cast and the inspiration behind its plot. The show follows Lily-Rose Depp’s character, an up-and-coming pop star named Jocelyn, who meets self-help guru and cult leader Tedros (The Weeknd). Some viewers have speculated whether the storyline was based on real-life music artists, such as Britney Spears, Madonna and even Selena Gomez. So, is The Idol based on a true story? 

Was ‘The Idol’ Inspired by Britney Spears? 

While attending the May 2023 Cannes Film Festival, series cocreator and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the rumors that the show was inspired by the “Till the World Ends” artist. 

“Look, I was a kid of the ’90s, and [Britney is] one of the greatest pop stars of all time,” Sam told the outlet before adding, “And, no, we’re not trying to tell a story about any particular pop star. I think we’re looking more at how the world perceives pop stars, and the pressure that it puts on that individual. It’s a lot of pressure to constantly have to be on, and to have to be what everyone wishes you to be. I also think that it’s a lonely life.”

Though episode 1 of the show includes a Britney reference, Sam insisted that the point was “more of a publicist [character’s] spinning and trying to draw connections and correlations so that the press will write about it kindly.” 

Nevertheless, a teaser trailer for the series featured a remix of Britney’s hit single “Gimme More.” 

Is ‘The Idol’ TV Series Based on a True Story? Inspiration Behind Britney Spears, Madonna Rumors
Courtesy of HBO/YouTube

Was ‘The Idol’ Inspired by Madonna? 

After Sam confirmed that The Idol is not based on Britney, Lily explained to the same outlet at Cannes that the show is “not telling anybody else’s story.” However, she applauded all of the “incredible pop stars of our day” after she got into the character of the “psyche of somebody who lives a lifestyle that [she] personally [hasn’t] lived.”

What Was the Inspiration Behind ‘The Idol’ TV Series? 

Since the cast and crew explained that their show was not influenced by a specific pop star, fans are still curious what the producers were inspired by when they created the show. 

In May 2023, The Weeknd explained the approach that he and the crew took while developing The Idol. 

“We Initially wanted to make a dark, twisted fairy tale with the music industry and everything I know about it and heighten it and take inspirations from films that both me and Sam love — it was really our love for music,” the “Blinding Lights” artist said, according to Deadline. “When I found out how much Sam is involved in the music in Euphoria and getting to work with him on the music on the show, that’s when it unlocked it for us. Can we create our own pop star? Can we create somebody who is trying to find themselves, using my experiences, using his experiences, using Lily’s experiences on creating something special, daring and exciting and fun that will make people laugh, piss some people off?”

Why Did ‘The Idol’ Face Backlash? 

Before the series premiered on HBO on June 4, 2023, The Idol was already stirring up backlash among viewers for its widely provocative and sexually explicit scenes. 

One particular scene that sparked controversy is when The Weeknd’s character tells Lily’s character to “stretch that tiny little p—sy” and has her blindfolded to cater to the male gaze. 

In response to the criticism he received, the “Save Your Tears” singer told GQ in June 2023 that “there’s nothing sexy about” the scene. 

“When we use Basic Instinct as a reference, we’re using [director Paul] Verhoeven. Verhoeven is the king of ‘90s satire thriller,” he explained. “Yes, there’s moments of ‘sexy’ in his films but there are other moments that are very cheesy and hilarious. How ever you’re feeling watching that scene, whether it’s discomfort, or you feel gross, or you feel embarrassed for the characters, it’s all those emotions adding up to, ‘This guy is in way over his head, this situation is one where he is not supposed to be here.’” 

Was ‘The Idol’ Canceled?

Though it has tons of people talking, the controversial show was canceled after one season, HBO announced on August 28, 2023.

The Idol was one of HBO’s most provocative original programs, and we’re pleased by the strong audience response,” a spokesperson for the streaming service said at the time. “After much thought and consideration, HBO, as well as the creators and producers have decided not to move forward with a second season. We’re grateful to the creators, cast, and crew for their incredible work.”