Pop Culture

Radhika Jones Introduces VF’s June Cover Star, The Weeknd

As much as summer has been the season for blockbuster movies, it’s also now the season for blockbuster TV. Our June cover features a face new to the small screen but hardly to entertainment—on the contrary, Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, is the biggest pop star in the world, though he wears that mantle without ceremony. The way he puts it, success has been a natural progression: “My music was very cult-y in the beginning. And then it ended up bleeding into the mainstream, which then became the sound of mainstream.” As Dan Adler reports in his cover profile, Tesfaye has long desired to turn his creative attentions to film and television; The Idol, his new HBO show with Sam Levinson (of Euphoria fame), in which Tesfaye stars alongside Lily-Rose Depp, is such a high-profile debut that it will premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The story of a struggling pop star (Depp) and her sketchy guru (Tesfaye) draws on Tesfaye’s unsparing view of the machinery of entertainment culture. “Hollywood is a dark place,” he says. “Which makes for great art.”

Fresh off the portrait studio at the Oscar party, Mark Seliger photographed Tesfaye at his Bel-Air estate, where scenes of The Idol were also filmed. If the superstar at home can feel like too easy a visual idiom, here it communicates something essential about Tesfaye—the distance between the man and the alter ego, and the illusions of fame we tend to project onto the famous.

While The Idol is getting the red-carpet treatment, others in TV land are a little more anxious about how this year will go. It’s been just over a decade since Netflix started making original content, changing the studio landscape forever by adding streamers to the cultural vernacular and pioneering the concept of full-season drops and binge watching. But peak TV wasn’t built to last forever. Joy Press and Natalie Jarvey report from the aftermath, amid canceled shows and talk of a writers strike, the trickle-down economics of tech layoffs, and a new Wall Street emphasis on profitability that has Hollywood talent of all stripes—writers, showrunners, producers—wondering what the future holds for the gold rush life.

Will there still be exceptional TV? Yes! It’s happening all around us, and you can see its stars throughout the pages of our special awards section. As disruptive as the original ascent of streaming was, we’re now entering Hollywood’s next chapter and the further evolution of our own tastes and preferences. But talent always rises to the top, and the shows and actors we highlight here are proof.

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