Amazon Prime Video's new series "Swarm" is inspired by Beyoncé stan culture

Amazon Prime Video’s new series “Swarm” is inspired by Beyoncé stan culture

The producers of “Swarm,” a new Amazon series co-created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, have issued a “Do not spoil” list that precludes detailing much about the show beyond the fact the seven episodes were shot in color. But there is a lot to be said about the limited series’ provocative view of fan culture, and how such loyalty can turn into obsession.

What can be a Swarm?

A swarm is a good word for a large group of bees going on the attack — not good news. Like bees, any group of people or animals can be considered a swarm if they act together and quickly — even fiercely. On a hot day, when an ice-cream truck shows up, it’s usually greeted by a swarm of hot, hungry kids.

Glover has clearly marched to the beat of his own drummer in terms of his TV work, with “Atlanta,” which recently completed its run, serving as a prime example of that. “Swarm,” too, is almost defiantly weird, in a mish-mash of styles and themes that draws from biting satire, understated comedy and most pointedly of all, horror, in a way that recalls some of Jordan Peele’s post-“Get Out” films.

Beyoncé is one of the most private celebrities

Growing up, Beyoncé was always a little reserved. “Because I was an introvert, I didn’t speak very much as a child. I spent a lot of time in my head building my imagination,” she told Harper’s Bazaar for its September issue. As she got older, she grew out of her shyness

All of those things are helped immeasurably, it turns out, by casting Dominique Fishback (whose credits include “The Deuce” and “Judas and the Black Messiah”) as Dre, the central figure in a show that opens with her character experiencing a tragedy, then dealing with the aftermath of that on the city-hopping journey that follows.

When introduced, Dre is an awkward person who shares a strong bond with her friend Marissa (Chloé Bailey), which includes their passion for a musical star named Ni’Jah, who is very definitely intended to be confused with Beyoncé. Indeed, Ni’Jah’s most ardent fans refer to themselves as the Swarm, a not-so-veiled nod to the contingent known as the BeyHive.

Left to her own devices, Dre seems almost rudderless, sleepwalking her way through encounters, with Ni’Jah essentially serving as the light that guides her from place to place. The result, in a characteristically Glover-ian way, is a lot of weird detours and a narrative that unfolds at its own grinding pace without appearing to be in any hurry to divulge what the broader point might be.

Patience, however, is rewarded, as the bigger picture – and how Dre’s back story informs it – gradually takes shape in the final three episodes. And the gist of it, ultimately, is the corrosive effects of engaging in blind hero worship, basically turning one’s life over to somebody that you don’t even know.

“Swarm” certainly isn’t for everyone, and without spoiling anything, viewers should be forewarned that it is dark, violent and occasionally unsettling. Yet the theme that the show tackles feels significant enough to deserve a hearing in this age where people form communities around Internet-connected passions, and Fishback is one of those performers who can keep you riveted without uttering a word, speaking volumes with the pain and longing in her eyes.

To Dre, there can be no greater transgression than disrespecting Ni’Jah. “Swarm” contemplates where that kind of mentality can lead, and if it doesn’t always work in justifying its prolonged beats, the show delivers enough of a sting, finally, to more than earn your respect.

Anyone who’s been even remotely online in the past decade or so is likely familiar with the toxicity found within many stan communities (for the sake of my own Twitter mentions, I’ll avoid mentioning any by name — further proving my point). But “Swarm” takes things one step further, and reimagines how a particularly devoted Ni’Jah listener could find refuge in their stan community when everything else feels hopeless. 

Dre’s passion for Ni’Jah is obviously unhinged, but the show’s portrayal of online stan communities — from stans’ Twitter presences to their reactions to an artist’s latest work — feels genuinely authentic, something co-creator Nabers said was the result of having a chronically online writers room.

And though “Swarm” does take audiences to a dark place, it also offers a thoughtful take on the often absurd realities of stan communities and pop culture. The question of ownership in parasocial relationships is also explored, along with the possible ramifications of being obsessively devoted to a high-profile public figure. 


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