Who’s your favorite artist? Answer carefully. That question is around every demented and depraved corner of Donald Glover and Janine Nabers’ new Amazon Prime series Swarm, an inspired, grimy, and downright incredible horror series that tackles the harsh and violent realities of obsession and fandom headfirst. In this story, the favorite artist isn’t just that, they become something of a God, their awe-inspiring aura like kryptonite for those under their spell—and for the anti-hero of this tale, that spell becomes deadly.
The seven-episode series follows Dominique Fishback’s Dre, a socially awkward superfan of a global sensation named Ni’jah, a fictional pop star akin to Beyoncé. Ni’jah’s fans are called “The Swarm”—See? The parallels are there, and they are obvious—and they are notorious for their dedication to their idol. Before long, Dre’s commitment to Ni’jah and The Swarm starts spiraling out of control, all because a defining incident with a loved one shakes her reality to its very core.
It has to be said right up front: This is Fishback’s show, and she will blow you away. The actress certainly burst onto the scene with an unmissable turn as Fred Hampton’s fiancée Deborah Johnson in Judas and the Black Messiah two years ago, but Swarm is undoubtedly her true breakout role. She is pitch perfect as an emotionally warped young woman desperate for love and acceptance from those closest to her. When those desires bleed into something broken and sinister, Fishback dives in headfirst. It’s a joy to watch Dre break down and try to find stability in her heinous acts, and even more exciting to experience the lengths she will go to secure it. Obviously, the series deals with this as it pertains to stan culture, and Fishback’s performance really hammers home the complicated psyche of the obsessive fan in a way that doesn’t shy away from parasocial tendencies—and how they can rear their ugly head in destructive ways.
Fishback isn’t the only great actor in the series, though. In fact, nearly every single person who speaks in this show knocks it out of the park. Chloe Bailey shines as Marissa, Dre’s sister whom she lives with and mooches off of in favor of spending money she doesn’t have on her idol. Their special and unique bond is so palpable that the way Dre goes on to interact with Bailey’s character’s memory becomes devastating on its own each and every time it is highlighted on screen. By this point, you may have heard that one Miss Billie Eilish makes a cameo appearance in the series, marking her screen debut. I’m here to quell any worries because not only is she perfectly cast, but she is an absolute natural on screen. Embodying a feminist cult leader in episode 4, she is reserved, the wheels turning in her brain at every moment—but not without softness and calculated kindness. Her most heightened scene with Fishback is a tour de force moment for both of them, and they are each giving so much to one another as actors that the intensity of the scene spills over into haunting territory. In short, it’s a moment—one of many in this series—that you will have a hard time forgetting.
Gushing about Fishback’s brilliance aside—trust me, for this project, I could do that all day—the series is rich with identity, and that is another major part of its undeniable charisma and strength. It has a really gritty yet sleek visual style, employing bold colors and a ton of flashing imagery that helps to disorient in some of the show’s headier moments, the times when Dre dissociates in an effort to get a grip on her reality. Glover and Nabers take fearless swings at style and substance, melding the two into a delightfully transgressive tale that seeks to pull you in with its visuals as much as its story. Dre’s world feels like ours but just a bit off, especially when it comes to those who are famous in her world. (A small character cameo of a certain popular talk show host in episode 5 will cement that for audiences.) So much of that eerie feel is thanks to the show’s distinctive and stylish production design that feels like a bizarre dupe of the world we know.
Not to be forgotten, not by a longshot, is the show’s intoxicating and addicting soundtrack, which features the goddess Ni’jah herself. Being actually able to hear the music Dre is so obsessed with is such a great way to set the scene of her unbridled and dangerous passion—especially with how catchy each track is. Fans can listen to the songs in full via the artist’s accompanying EP, featuring all of Ni’jah’s tracks from the series, which is a welcomed addition to the Swarm canon considering all the earworms throughout each episode. The music is one of the final pieces of the puzzle that serve to fully immerse the viewer in Dre’s world. The show’s smart use of music and its deliberate use of sound—notice that buzzing growing louder and more ominous every time Dre starts hatching a plan?—help push the audience into its tangled web, the one inside Dre’s messed-up head.
Swarm is a smart indictment of stan culture as much as it is a sharp serial killer story, and personally, the show has ensnared me in a way that few murder stories do. Mixing violence and fandom feels like a natural trajectory for storytelling in that realm, simply because it’s something we don’t take very seriously, at least not until it’s too late in real life. Idolatry and parasocial bonds deserve a wider lens, one that allows artists to peel back the layers of these complicated ideologies. Glover and Nabers’ series is daring enough to tap in, and there’s no denying that despite the darkness, there are gems everywhere within this story.
Swarm is currently available on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the series trailer here.