As Sam Levinson’s 'The Idol' debuts to intense criticism, we ask whether the age of hyper-sexualisation in teen dramas has really come to an end.

If you’ve been on Twitter over the last week, chances are you’ve seen an opinion about The Idol. Chances are, it also wasn’t a positive one. Debuting on the 4th June, Lily Rose Depp’s and The Weeknd’s show has become more of an internet joke than serious social critique, alongside a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 27%. The origin of a lot of the criticism? The hypersexualisation seemingly at the heart of the show.


As one Twitter user aptly put it: “Watching the idol and i’m tryna figure out what’s going on. it’s just a hypersexual pop star having a crisis and smoking cigs.”


The conversation around the sexualisation of female Hollywood is not far from novel for co-creator Levinson, facing widespread backlash for Euphoria, and the often-deemed gratuitous nudity of stars like Sydney Sweeney.

Casting a wider cultural net, for girls who grew up during the 2010s, hyper sexualisation felt entirely unavoidable in teen drama. Gossip Girl used cast posters with quotes like ‘every parent’s nightmare’ and ‘very bad for you’ – words taken from real criticism the show faced. Characters like Ed Westwick’s Chuck Bass are openly predatory, and the phrase ‘a different time’ comes to mind when looking at similar teen smash Pretty Little Liars. As the 16-year-old Aria has a relationship with her English teacher, in this noughties world of warped morality, the watcher is encouraged to root-for, rather than condemn the partnership.


Perhaps the main issue with The Idol then, is not the subject matter itself, but rather we are once again encouraged to love the gaslighting and manipulative “bad boy”. We watch Lily Rose Depp’s “cool girl” character being abused, but rather than disgust, the tone is by 2023 standards, very uncomfortably glamorized. If teen shows like Gossip Girl and PLL were a different time, why have The Idol‘s creators not moved on?


So, does sleazy art hold a place amongst the media landscape of today? It clearly attracts viewers, although perhaps not praise, as the majority of The Idol viewers seem to be hate-watching the show. Sure, give us all range of sexuality and relationships in drama and film, but maybe avoid offering abusers and predators a redemption arc.

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