In March, Amazon Prime debuted Swarm, "a thriller that serves as a spikey admonishment of celebrity worship," Aisha Harris writes for NPR. Co-created by Atlanta creator Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, a writer and co-executive producer of Glover's previous project, the seven-episode miniseries explores "stan" culture and the toxic fandoms that push their love for their favorite celebrities to the extreme.
The show follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Houston-born pop star Ni'Jah, "an obvious, translucently veiled analog" for Beyoncé and her loyal legion of fans known as the Beyhive, Harris adds. "Yet for all the highly specific Beyhive Easter eggs," Swarm is "only about Beyoncé in an abstract sense," Harris says. Rather, its creators' true purpose is to take "the idea of the devoted fan" and stretch it "to its limits" by "calling upon the tendencies of obsessive fans and sadistic serial killers both fictional and real."
When a tragedy involving her foster sister (played by Beyoncé protégé, Chloe Bailey) pushes Dre over the edge, the #1 Ni'Jah fan takes off on a cross-country homicidal rampage, targeting anyone who trash-talks her fave. Such "serial violence is the dark-comic foundation for the show's satire of fan culture and social media, and its depiction of their effect on someone who has always felt like an outcast," says Mike Hale in The New York Times, Though Hale commends Fishback for her portrayal of Dre, the character nonetheless "remains a bit of a hollow shell," he says. Indeed, while Swarm touches on several "potent topics like female empowerment and identity, and the ways in which Black women are alternately condescended to and ignored," those ruminations don't necessarily "come together in a way that makes dramatic sense."
"Everything about the show's story of a disturbed fan is meant to make you think deeply about what it really means to lose yourself in parasocial relationships and online fandom," Charles Pulliam-Moore writes for The Verge. That said, Swarm's "commitment to "lampooning one real-world idol and her legion of stans" ultimately feels "fixated on punching down rather than actually saying something insightful about how people can end up finding community in the most toxic digital spaces." Instead of making a critical commentary on all celebrities and their fandoms, Swarm "has a tendency to read like screed aimed at the Beyhive" and Black women in that group, rather than as "a nuanced deconstruction of stan culture writ large."
"The casting of Billie Eilish, Paris Jackson, and Chloe Bailey" — all popstars or popstar-adjacent themselves — "heightens a sense of meta-commentary" in the show, Spencer Kornhaber says in The Atlantic. "On some level, this is a work by famous people expressing something about the very people who admire them." But the series also "pointedly downplays the upsides of fandom: the authentic community, the nourishing sense of purpose." And its "stark, stylized polemic" comes off as "all the more chilling given how eagerly it draws attention to its own authorship by fawned-over entertainers." Its overall message, though? "Many of our modern gods are, quite clearly, afraid of their congregants."