It’s turning out to be the summer of Zendaya. Not only is she starring in Spider-Man: Far From Home, but she’s also being praised for her uncharacteristically gritty role in HBO’s Euphoria. And it’s opening the eyes of some of the singer’s fans who otherwise might have skipped it.

Sometimes actresses who start as “Disney girls” and try to do down and dirty roles fare well (Selena Gomez in Spring Breakers), and some don’t (Lindsay Lohan in I Know Who Killed Me). But Zendaya and the show are earning praise for being true to life, from both fans and critics. 

How ‘Euphoria’ is being praised 

Sonia Saraiya, Sam Levinson, Zendaya, Hunter Schafer, Barbie Ferreira and Eric Dane | Gary Miller/Getty Images for FIJI Water

According to a Yahoo/Pop Sugar report, the show is pulling in decent if not fantastic ratings, and it surely helps that it follows the heavily anticipated second season of Big Little Lies. The show pulled in some half-a-million viewers live, with a half-million more checking it out through the streaming platforms HBO Go and HBO now.

Inevitably, whenever a star that originally appeals to teens tries to take on a more adult role, some “how dare you” boo birds come out. But fans were swift to defend the actress, even if she had strayed outside of their comfort zone. 

“It’s not Zendaya’s responsibility to monitor what your children watch on television. If you don’t want them seeing graphic content, don’t let them watch Euphoria. Period. Z is 22 years old, she’s not a Disney Channel actress anymore and she shouldn’t have to cater to a younger (audience) ” said one Twitter user.

Zendaya is aware how much of departure the show is for her. In an Instagram post, she warned that the show’s nudity and graphic scenes could be “triggering.” On Instagram she said the show was a “raw and honest portrait of addiction, anxiety and the difficulties of navigating life today … Please only watch if you feel you can handle it.”

Some fans are handling it just fine, as indicated by a Twitter user who said “If you’re looking for a show with excellent acting, a good soundtrack, and stunning visuals, this is the one. It gives an honest and raw portrait of teenage addiction and mental illness. Zendaya plays the lead role of a young black girl coming of age.”

What critics are saying about ‘Euphoria’

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It’s not just fans who are pleased with Euphoria – critics are too, with the series scoring an 81 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes

Caroline Framke of Variety said, “Just like the teens it depicts with such staggering candor, once you get past its immediate attempts to hold the audience at arms length, Euphoria has an undeniable pull that makes it too intriguing to ignore.”

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: “If the second half of this story is as compelling as the first, this will end up being one of the best series of the year.”

Jen Chaney of New York Magazine Vulture praised Zendaya, although she was somewhat mixed on the overall show: “Zendaya is also exceptional as Rue, the glue that holds this sprawling ensemble piece together. But I can’t say for certain that I fully like it, either, because it’s gratuitous for reasons that don’t always seem necessary.”

But Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic was one of the few to go negative, writing, “Trolling the Family Research Council with graphic scenes of underage sex, violence, and drug use is easy to do. What’s harder is using the same kind of imagery and action to make a point, or a change. “

Zendaya wanted to break her mold

Whether Euphoria will continue beyond one season or not remains to be seen. But it has proven that Zendaya has more facets to her than people might have suspected. And this was a conscious effort on her part. She told Entertainment Tonight “I finally felt like I was doing something that I could push myself [with]. But always you’re still going to have that doubt, and [I’m] still in my head, like, ‘Wait, can I do it?’”

Now that she has done it, she’s not just looking out for herself. She hopes the show helps people too. 

“I think definitely there’s been, at least amongst my peers, a certain [emphasis] on not just mental health but self-care and opening up to other experiences,” she said. “That, in turn, makes you feel like you’re not alone if you are dealing with it. It makes you feel heard and not so isolated.”