“Swarm” depicts the dark side of an overly obsessive stan
"Swarm" depicts the dark side of an obsessive stan
“Who’s your favorite artist?”
It’s a seemingly innocuous question, one asked by numerous overly-energetic college orientation leaders as an icebreaker meant to generate conversation among silent and wide-eyed students. However, in the new Amazon Prime limited series Swarm, it’s the catalyzing query that, if answered incorrectly, lands characters in the ire of Dre (played by Dominique Fishback), an awkward twenty-something loner who idolizes fictional pop sensation Ni’Jah (whose life, career and fans are all inspired by Beyoncé and her Beyhive).
Created by Donald Glover (fresh off Atlanta’s final season) and Janine Nabers, Swarm seeks to skewer the dangers of stan culture, a social media-birthed phenomenon that has led to a new breed of intensely devoted fans who worship their favored celebrities and are quick to demonize anyone against them. While Swarm can tread too close to being overly-meta, its surrealist and unpredictable storytelling and strong lead performances reel it back in and catapult it to new heights.
After experiencing a personal tragedy in the pilot episode, Dre embarks on a cross-country journey where she tries to deal with her grief while also attempting to meet and befriend her idol. The series tracks Dre’s increasingly dangerous obsession with Ni’Jah and the lengths she goes to defend her from online trolls and detractors. Suffice to say, Dre’s actions typically have bloody ends, and with each encounter, her obsession grows and she seems to detach further from reality.
Ironically enough, the show features some popular faces with strong connections to pop music royalty. Chloe Bailey, an R&B singer and former protege of Beyoncé, plays Marissa, Dre’s sister with whom she has a close relationship. There’s Billie Eilish’s character Eva, a seemingly-warm yet enigmatic cult women’s retreat leader who befriends Dre while she’s mid-spiral. There’s also Paris Jackson, daughter of the late King of Pop Michael Jackson, who plays Dre’s co-worker caught in an abusive relationship.
While these appearances all seem to be tongue in cheek, every performance is solid. Bailey’s warmth and connection with Dre is felt even when the pair are apart, and she feels like a true sister caught in a difficult situation. Eilish is hypnotic as Eva, and speaks as though there’s something sinister beneath her calm exterior.
However, it’s Dominique Fishback’s show through and through. In each episode, the actress dives into new layers about Dre’s past and what’s made her into the person she is now, making it clear that for Dre, loving Ni’Jah isn’t just a facet of her personality; it’s her entire life. Fishback portrays Dre in a way that makes you want to empathize with her, but also fear her unpredictable nature. Her eyes seem to dance across the screen in tense moments that keep you on your toes, and while the narrative can get complicated at times, it’s impossible to stop watching Dre’s descent. It’s a testament to Fishback’s strength as an actress that she can carry the show and take viewers through an entire spectrum of emotions.
The storyline, while entertaining, can become confusing and difficult to follow due to its time jumps and lack of explanation in regards to some of its plots. A decision in a later episode convults the story further, making it extremely meta in a way that could be harmful to the overall finale. It also comes at a time when the tension in Dre’s story is reaching fever pitch, and while it provides helpful exposition, it breaks the pacing of the story.
Additionally, as previously mentioned, the show’s fictional pop star is heavily inspired by Beyoncé, which can act as a double edged sword in the show. It can be helpful in terms of characterizing the type of artists she is and how she fits into the pop culture landscape of this universe, but it can restrict itself from making a broader overall statement about the dangers of standom.
Beyoncé is far from the only artist to have an intense group of fans; think of Taylor Swift’s Swifties, Nicki Minaj’s Barbz and BTS’ Army. The show can be so locked in to creating this Beyoncé-like figure that it disallows it from getting creative with the celebrity and their respective stans.
However, Swarm is an overall strong and entertaining series supported by great performances and wild storylines. While the plot and pacing can be flawed at times, the show offers a frightening portrait of what modern day fandom can look like for some people, and it’ll make you think twice next time someone asks you about your favorite artist.