Friends, it's been a short and strange trip, watching The Idol. This show, despite being only five episodes in length in its first season, has revealed so much to me about The Way We All Watch Television Now. We have the moral panic zone, where if you depict someone doing something bad, it means that you are bad, and you want everyone else to be bad too. We have the death rattle of media literacy: specifically a swirl of gossip about the show being so unsuccessful that it was cut from six episodes to five, which was only set straight by critic Meghan O'Keefe simply asking The Idol production staff about it. We have K-pop stans defending Jennie's honor and someone who thinks that if The Weeknd shot the show at his own house, it means he is exactly like Tedros Tedros. Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Where are those good old-fashioned values on which we used to rely???
I've been having a blast, though. If we're going to witness the total collapse of the internet attention economy — how is a Twitter watercooler show supposed to work when Twitter goes down? — it might as well be projected through the sweaty and dolorous countenance of Abel Tesfaye, on his 97th tequila neat, staring at the pop star he thought he created, the pop star who keeps shooting daggers with her eyes and telling him to fuck off for the 97th time.
It's stray thought o'clock!
- I love that we open the finale, still songwriting, with Mike Dean now honkin' on Bobo. Gorgeous cinematic framing aside, I do believe that actual pop songwriting is more or less the way it looks on this show. Listen to Dua Lipa's episode of Song Exploder where she talks about the making of "Levitating" — you show up, you pull a tarot card, you talk about whatever you're feeling that day, someone plays you a track, you mumble some syllables into a microphone while a bunch of people stand around you going YESSS, then ????? and then you have a hit record.
- I do think the music composed for The Idol is The Weeknd's attempt to make Selena Gomez songs. Whether he is using the show to somehow rehash his relationship with her, I cannot say, and I will not say, but here's a snippet of last week's notes when I realized these dark / minimalist Jocelyn songs feel like they're taking mid-2010s Selena G and running them through a The Weeknd-shaped extruder (to awful effect):
- I started watching this show hoping it would feel like a truly contemporary satire, but I realize this is an impossible task. If it were me, Jocelyn would be up against a phalanx of music executives screaming at her to make a perky song with a 10-second snippet that people could choreograph TikTok dances to...maybe a cheeky retro Dua Lipa rip-off, or a bubblegum drum 'n' bass PinkPantheress type of thing....but no, we're trapped in the warped, dreary, horror movie synthesizer era of music that I hate.
- The Weeknd doesn't have a fucking rat tail in this show and I'm tired of people talking about it. He has a braided ponytail. I guess they were trying to make the rat tail into a meme. You can't force a meme! Memes flow naturally, like spring water from the earth. I don't want to hear about a rat tail AGAIN!
- I watched the finale with my husband Chris and my friend Joel. At one point when Tedros and Jocelyn are arguing, Joel said "This feels like it was improvised" and I have to agree. A lot of this series feels yes-anded, with random shockers tossed in (saying that a particularly sexy showcase performance caused "snail trails", blerg) and the wheels really came off in this episode. Sam Levinson is directing on vibes alone.
- Line read of the episode goes to sneaky Dyanne, who, boned by an unforeseen problem with the release of "World Class Sinner," the single she stole from Jocelyn, asks in a withering tone, "You want me to write a song about a legal issue for my first single?"
- It's also telling that after only five episodes of The Idol, I find Jocelyn's constant writhing tiresome. I'm sorry but it's too much writhing for me. Britney didn't just writhe. Britney had structure. You need structure in order to make the writhing more powerful. However, I am proud of Lily-Rose Depp. She made an effort to be embodied. At a time when fewer stars than ever are embodied (listen to the Stargirl podcast on Addison Rae for a deep dive on embodiment) L-R D is going there and I'm here for it.
- Here's a question: how is she supposed to writhe onstage in a similar manner at her triumphant stadium show when she is dressed like she is going to the Met gala? Gowns, beautiful gowns. One writhe gone wrong and Joss is going to look like she fell down in the shower and got tangled in the curtain.
- Here's another question: Jocelyn had completely scrapped a new album, started selling concert tickets off vibes alone, somehow had three hit songs in six weeks, and then upgraded her Los Angeles show to a stadium? I know this show is a satire but I cannot think of a comeback of this magnitude in real pop history...if you can think of one, email me at ienjoymusicblog [at] gmail [dot] com.
- When the music biz people are gathered in a little group at the stadium taking turns insulting Tedros — who has been completely destroyed by Jocelyn through the re-structuring of Hari Nef's character's Vanity Fair article — they demean his rap career by saying he shot a music video in a Carl's Jr. parking lot. Here's the thing though — shooting a rap music video in a Carl's Jr. parking lot is actually extremely cool. Lofi music videos are cool in general. Look at the Milwaukee rapper AyooLii's YouTube page, look at the hardcore band Gel's concert in a Sonic drive-in parking lot. It's what the people want.
- Here's yet another question: what on earth was that Vanity Fair Tedros hit piece about? Did it include Jocelyn at all? How can you report on a cult leader / criminal without giving it the celebrity angle of Jocelyn that will really sell it? After all, NXIVM's intrigue was absolutely fueled by the inclusion of Allison Mack. If a cult falls in the woods, ideally someone important was there to hear it. How did Jocelyn escape this reporting unscathed? These are questions that I must ask, for journalism.
- When I saw the infamous moon hovering in the back of the stadium, I screamed. The Weeknd's big ass moon that blocked seats which cost 200 bucks.
- I guess the gyrating clan of happy-go-lucky Tedros acolytes had their big moment with that "showcase" rather than the stadium show. The audience at SoFi would have probably been confused as hell seeing these people onstage. "Put your hands together......for a bunch of sexy clowns I found on the side of the road!" Nice sound check, at least.
- It's been five episodes of The Idol, and I don't know what a Ramsey is, and at this point I'm too afraid to ask.
- The ending...hmm. People seem upset that Jocelyn is revealed to be the evil mastermind and Tedros her victim. I understand why such a reversal is upsetting in this age of abuse victims getting sued by their abusers. I also don't know how you successfully end this season of this show in any way. Jocelyn appears to be back on top. She fucks over the dancer who tried to steal her career. Her superhero actor ex is accused of rape and we never really hear what happens next. She mindfreaks her creative director and gives him permission to become a pop star in his own right, and she sets up the other cult members to have their own careers. Her corporate overlords are pleased. Meanwhile Tedros is onstage in a leisure suit, looking bewildered. Are we happy? Is this justice? Is this just the music biz?
- The Idol to me is a fun show to watch because it's vibe chaos with a side of crab mentality. All these people are in a bucket, scrabbling toward the top. They're only as good as their last hit, only as good as their relationship with the biggest star. Backstabbing, plotting, scheming, blah blah blah. Tale as old as time, we can tell it forever. What keeps me in my seat on the couch is the ridiculousness of it all. Post-peak-TV, everyone's trying to make an epic show about a bad guy who wants to be good, maybe, with a title sequence that has abstract images projected over a guy's aviator sunglasses as frantic arpeggios play in the background, and the mood will be austere, but archly funny, but also deadly serious, with scenes that will turn into eternal reaction gifs, and a fandom that imagines what it'd be like if different combinations of characters hooked up, and it's about the aerospace industry or the Civil War or the invention of the hot dog, and it will win 58 Emmys. The Idol is not that show. The Idol, at the end of the day, is striving to capture not what pop stardom is, but how it feels. Everyone wanting a piece of you all the time, producers and their emotional support bongs, business and numbers laid over art and emotions. None of it makes sense, just like every pop star — Lil Nas X, Ice Spice, Kim Petras, Ed Sheeran — doesn't really make sense. Pop is chaos. Lady Gaga was correct when she said "my artpop could mean anything" — she was correct, and the people were not ready for Her message.
- Dear god, I'm at 1700 words. Stray thoughts indeed.
- Last one: people are mourning the lost version of this show, the one Amy Seimetz was going to direct. And I bet that show would have technically been better in every way. The writing would be better, and the plot would make sense. Statistically speaking there's no way it would make less sense than Levinson/Weeknd's Idol. But I just can't vibe with the way people are doing the mourning. Look at the responses to this tweet of photos of the Seimetz production. "They ruined it"; "It looked so fun!"; "oh it was gonna be SO cute." I guess people thought this show was going to be kitschy and sweet, the way they think pop stardom should be. And if they want that aesthetic, they are welcome to watch early Britney videos or perhaps enjoy some episodes of the television show Hannah Montana. Those properties are available to watch, right now. But "real" stories about pop stardom are never just "fun" and "SO cute" and I don't think this one was ever going to be. There are plenty of real-life pop girls who became famous for being young and sparkly, at massive personal cost, and they are speaking about what that was like and you can listen to them if you want. I don't think you can call The Idol immoral to watch then turn around and mainline fancams of singers who keep fainting onstage. The gnarliest thing pop music does is make you complicit in the impossible task of asking a real human being to be superhuman, to not melt under the heat of millions of eyeballs, to keep their supply up with your demand, even if your only demand is the release of a nice catchy song once in a while. Is that too much to ask? Britney wasn't the one saying "gimme more", after all. She feels like the crowd is saying it.