While many details about Amazon Prime’s new show “Swarm” are murky in the trailers, fans are abuzz because of the big names associated with the series. Musician and actor Donald Glover is a co-creator and the show features musician Chole Bailey and Billie Eilish in her acting debut.
The series follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), a retail employee lacking social skills and interests beyond her sister (Chole Bailey) and famous popstar, Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown). Dre’s childhood love for the musician began as a girlish love for music shared with her sister and has since festered into obsession in her adulthood. This extreme case of celebrity worship disrupts Dre’s life, as she can’t go two seconds without mentioning the artist. All her money goes toward Ni’Jah merchandise and concert tickets, to the dismay of those close to her. Her passion soon turns to bloodlust as she loses her grip on reality to defend her favorite musician.
The show touches on the claws the entertainment industry sinks into the minds of impressionable viewers, and how “stan culture” has desensitized the effects of obsession and parasocial relationships. Dre serves as a self-insert character both for viewers to identify with and to be horrified by. It is clear that Ni’Jah mirrors the real icon Beyoncé, as the fictional star’s bee-themed fanbase “The Swarm” references Beyoncé’s “Beehive.” In a Dre-type fashion, many viewers disregarded the lack of advertisement for the series, loyally following Donald Glover or Billie Eilish’s careers.
The show’s concept doesn’t quite hit the mark in early episodes, and the concept of a “fandom” is seemingly two dimensional, focusing on the disgust derived from fanbase behavior instead of the emotional comfort that shields Dre from external threats. The show criticizes stan culture but also portrays the stans as inane and animalistic, initially making it difficult to sympathize with Dre. Fishback does provide a terrifying performance, shaping a complex role in an industry that doesn’t always allow POC women to be morally gray characters. Her character may be insane, but Fishback’s comedic delivery is hilariously down-to-earth.
The series’ best episode centers around the female empowerment cult led by a disarmingly charming Eva (Billie Eilish). In these episodes, the cult leader is able to dig into Dre’s psyche, allowing the audience to understand why being a part of The Swarm is so important to her. Both cults and fandoms provide a familial blond, and when Dre realizes the artificial nature of these connections, more bloodshed ensues. Eilish’s acting is also surprisingly good. Her piercing blue eyes and soothing voice make it very easy to view her as a manipulative cult leader.
Horror isn’t the priority of this series. The gore and violence present themselves in a way that shocks viewers into seeing how extreme fan culture is, proving that a “casual enjoyer” does not exist in modern times. Even though the ending is not satisfying — and unfortunately the dullest part of the show — the writing is haunting, and it forces watchers to evaluate how they consume media. The endless fanfiction tabs open on your device, the movie posters hanging on your wall, the $1,000 Harry Styles tickets sitting in your cart and every other piece of media that has shaped your personality may make you wonder: “How stuck in The Swarm am I?”