Is The Idol based on Britney Spears?

Lily-Rose Depp as Jocelyn in The IdolHBO

Is The Idol based on Britney Spears? The parallels between the controversial new HBO series and the princess of pop are clear to see, but is Lily-Rose Depp’s character actually meant to be Britney? 

If you are of the belief that all publicity is good publicity, then HBO’s new drama from Euphoria’s Sam Levinson and The Weeknd might just be the most successful show of the year. 

But alas, following its three-episode premiere at Cannes and the wide release of its first episode, The Idol has proven to be just as divisive as the alleged off-screen drama, which you can read more about here. It’s provocative, edgy, and definitely not one to watch with your parents. 

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Beyond the sex, drugs, and full-frontal nudity, there’s also the story of a damaged pop star being exploited by the industry machine. Sound familiar? Here’s what you need to know about whether The Idol is based on Britney Spears

Is The Idol based on Britney Spears?

No, The Idol’s lead character Jocelyn isn’t based on Britney Spears, as confirmed by the character’s actor and co-creator Sam Levinson – however, there are numerous reasons why people assumed this was the case. 

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Firstly, the Baby One More Time singer herself caused a bit of confusion all the way back in 2021 when the show was still in development. At the time, she took to Instagram to write: “I just shot a movie titled THE IDOL… it’s guaranteed to have hits and a lot of bright pics to put in my beautiful family’s faces.”

Britney Spears performing on stageCreative Commons

Since she dropped this at the same time the news of The Idol TV series was doing the rounds, many people put two and two together. However, it appears they were unrelated, with sources telling TMZ that Spears had “not been asked to be a part of the HBO show, and her team is unsure as to what movie she’s referring to in her caption.”

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Then there’s the fact that Jocelyn’s story has similarities to Britney’s, notably that she faces pressure from her cutthroat management team and supposed friends to perform and make money – at the cost of her own mental wellbeing. 

Among the many comments suggesting The Idol is a Spears story, one fan wrote: “From watching The Idol, I feel like Britney Spears was an inspiration for The Idol’s main character. Her father/husband was a version of Abel’s character. She was the hottest and biggest pop star of the late 90s/2000s; but was surrounded by the worst characters in the industry.”

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And just like Levinson promised, there is even a Britney reference in the first episode. It arrives when Jocelyn is practicing the dance routine for her comeback single as her management team watches on.

A Vanity Fair reporter says the choreography is like a “homage to Britney,” to which Jocelyn’s publicist responds (in typical PR style): “I think what Britney and Jocelyn have gone through is really unique but, ultimately, universal, you know? Look at what she’s overcome, you know, the press has been brutal. But Britney as well, people count them out, and this is Jocelyn saying I will not be written off.”

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Depp only fuelled the comparison further when she told E! News, “There was so much inspiration to be drawn from somebody like Britney Spears, who I adore,” although she did also mention “all of the other incredible pop icons of our time.”

The actress cleared things up in a chat with ExtraTV where she was asked if The Idol is based on Britney, to which Depp replied: “No, it’s not based on anyone in particular. We’re definitely not trying to tell anyone else’s story, but definitely create one of our own… This is a fictional character and fictional story.”

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Levinson echoed these sentiments, suggesting that while there are certainly similarities between Jocelyn and Spears, The Idol isn’t about any one star in particular. Speaking at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, he said (via Variety): “Look, I was a kid of the ’90s, and [Britney’s] one of the greatest pop stars of all time… 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, and we can all pretend that everyone is looking out for someone’s best interests, but I think fame really corrupts.”

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The Idol Episode 2 will be available to stream from June 11. Check out our other coverage below:

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