Spoilers for Swarm are below.
What would you do to be acknowledged by your favorite music artist? (well, maybe don’t answer that). The progression of social media has thinned the line between artist access and what fans get to see. Instead of having a 90s-centric club where supporters mail letters and get personalized merchandise – they can send their thoughts to the person via Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc. That includes any detractors that beget situations that get dicey and dangerous.
Sure, we’re all allowed to have different opinions on the quality of music artists, but saying things about some of the top-tier ones, in general, might have your notifications lit up for days on end. The warnings about the personification of “stan” may have been depicted when Devon Sawa portrayed the character furiously writing letters to Eminem in the 2000 video. Still, fandom gone wrong is not a new concept.
Swarm, a seven-episode series co-created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, doesn’t try to hide what fanbase it’s depicting. The series musical megastar, Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown) is the spitting image of Beyonce. Her fans are called “the swarm” akin to the Beyhive, and the period of 2016-2018 the show takes place in is the Lemonade era. The first image of the main character, Andrea (Dominique Fishback), is her getting a credit card to buy the most expensive tickets for Ni’Jah’s upcoming tour. And fair! Who hasn’t splurged on tickets every once in a while?
Andrea is the quintessential Ni’Jah super fan. She runs a Twitter account devoted to her and uses that as a bonding point for her and her sister Marissa (Chloe Bailey). However, the pull of growing older is starting to weigh on that bridge. Marissa has a boyfriend named Khalid (Damson Idris), and they seem to be building a life together. Andrea, well, she doesn’t seem as well adjusted to the outside world. When she’s not devoted to her social feed, Andrea is late to work and mainly absent from the world around her. The only drops of euphoria she gains are through a Ni’Jah song or a surprise album drop.
Swarm deduces very early on that this obsession is unhealthy – to the tune of Marissa deciding they need some much-needed distance between them. Sadly, it’s a one-sided relationship in terms of emotionally (mostly because Andrea might not know how) that gets severed quickly. At the first episode's conclusion, Marissa finds out Khalid is cheating on her and cannot get ahold of Andrea. The following day, Andrea finds her sister has died, which becomes the breaking point leading to a warpath of unfeathered rage. It begins when she brutally kills Khalid and continues with a body count that grows until the final episode.
Is there more to what’s wrong with Andrea? Absolutely. For starters, an addiction to her phone leads to taking Marissa’s phone and texting from it – as if she’s still alive. From state to state, Andrea sets off on a mission to kill anyone who has spoken an ill word against the house of Ni’Jah (you mess with the hive, you get stung). At first, the show feels like it’s on a runaway train where a crazed fan enacts some warped justice against those who dare speak sideways. However, in the real world, death threats and doxing do happen. There’s a little bit more to why these obsessions go into darkness.
Much of the credit goes to Dominque Fishback’s performance, pushing her character beyond the surface of “fandom going horribly.” There are scenes where Fishback conveys so much in simple words and facial expressions – almost as if Andra is using this as an outlet for all the repressed hurt she’s experienced. In episode three, Swarm begins to dive into aspects of identity when she meets an exotic dancer named Hailey (Paris Jackson), who touts that her father is half-Black. (This is why her stage name is Halsey. ha.)
In episode four, Andrea stumbles upon a compound of “women empowerment” influencers and a woman named Eva (Billie Eilish). Through some therapy sessions, they both begin to peel back some of the layers of what’s going on with Andrea. Thankfully, there’s some ambiguity left to the minds of the audience. As smartly as this situation is shown, it’s almost as if Swarm abandons its investigation of what makes a cult too quickly. Andrea exhibits some mental health issues with a crippling sense of loneliness.
Ni’Jah is the apex of womanhood that transcends conventional understanding to her and others like her – an unhealthy and lofty conduit that an artist could never live up to. As Andrea refers to herself as a goddess, Eva often turns that back on her and says, “yes, but you’re a goddess, too.” It was ripe for commentary on how movements of like-minded people can lead to tragic consequences. Also, some people at the edge of power (whether knowingly or unknowingly) can use this to their advantage.
Where Swarm takes its brief detour is its penultimate mockumentary episode, where a detective named Loretta Greene (Heather Simms) puts all the murderous pieces together. Usually, when we think of a psychotic fan, many people think of Annie Wilkes and what she does to Paul Sheldon in a cabin during Stephen King’s Mistery. Seldom does the world consider a Black woman would be capable of mass murder across state lines. It’s a funny deviation that works to interslice another breadcrumb into Andrea’s troubled life.
Where much of the heavy lifting concerning Andrea’s mental state is left for Fishback and the gorgeous cinematography of Drew Daniels to expound upon, the finale is where the audience gets to see it most evidently. Andrea meets a woman named Rashida (Kiersey Clemons) and seems to be in a somewhat happy relationship. But unfortunately, her hold on the specter of Ni’Jah can’t be broken for her to enjoy it fully. Thus, in the last moments of Swarm, the audience is left to wonder if the final moments between Andrea and Ni’Jah in the limo are real – in a nod to Rupert Pupkin’s showtime ending in The King of Comedy.
Is the Beyhive the only fandom? No. There are the Swifties, the Barbs, etc., and not every fan is out to be ferociously violent. Artists certainly know how to cultivate these bases, something Swarm skates by. Fans might indeed have this inflated sense of duty to protect their star – it may also be true that those same stars won’t denounce that support because it keeps the bankroll going.
While not every situation ripped from the headlines of prior history might not hit the way it should, Swarm still holds an entertaining premise looking into when fandom crosses the line.