“Swarm,” Prime Video’s horror-satire about a global pop star’s homicidal mega-fan, is not about Beyoncé or the BeyHive. Really. It’s not. The Grammy-winning singer wasn’t mentioned once during Friday night’s SXSW premiere — not in co-creator Janine Nabers’ introduction, nor in the post-screening Q&A with Nabers, Dominique Fishback, and Chloë Bailey, and the Queen Bey certainly isn’t name-dropped over the first two episodes, which screened to gasps and laughs at the Paramount Theater in Austin, TX.
But there may have been… inspirations.
“In April 2016, when a certain visual album dropped […] there was a rumor that a girl named Marissa Jackson killed herself because she realized that a certain pop star was being cheated on by her husband,” Nabers said during the Q&A with Vulture’s Sam Sanders. “I was on a text thread with some of my Houstonian friends, and for two days we thought this was a real event — until it was dispelled later on Black Twitter.”
“So when Donald [Glover] pitched this idea about a Black woman who’s obsessed with a pop star, I said ‘I know what the pilot is’ and ran with it.”
“Swarm” opens in April 2016 and centers on Dre (Fishback), a super-fan of a famous singer who maxes out her new credit card on concert tickets. Meanwhile, she’s struggling to pay the rent and her best friend, Marissa (Chloë Bailey) — who she also bought a ticket for — is starting to get fed up with her friend’s childish decision-making. Events spiral from there, sending Dre on an unexpected cross-country journey filled with frightening encounters.
When asked if a “pop star who shall not be named” watched “Swarm” yet, Nabers simply said, “Of course.” But when pressed to say more, she declined.
“Every episode deals with real news stories, real events, or internet rumors that have happened, and we have put our wonderful women in the center of those stories,” Nabers said.
Prior to the screening, Nabers took the stage and explained that she and Glover, who worked together on “Atlanta,” started writing “Swarm” during the early months of the pandemic. “Our writers’ room was completely Black,” she said. “All our directors are Black, [and] most of our producers are Black.”
“We know the show is propulsive,” she said. “We know it’s going to evoke a lot of conversations. So if you really want to Tweet about it, Tweet at Donald Glover.”
Glover, who directed the premiere in addition to co-creating and executive producing the series, was not in attendance, but he did record a video message that played before the episodes. With a Cameo logo in the bottom right-hand corner, Glover pretended to read from a script sent to him by “Amazon.”
“’Swarm’ is a work of love and passion shot on film with intent,” Glover said. “Enjoy the show and make sure to Tweet and Facebook this. I’m very proud of this, and I hope you have as much fun watching it as we did making it.”
Nabers said Fishback “gives a performance for the ages,” before noting that her character is a unique person to lead a TV show.
“I think as Americans, we’re so conditioned to seeing white men be angry,” Nabers said. “We’re giving them that space for violence on film and TV.”
She then referenced how “Dahmer” recently became “one of the biggest shows Netflix has ever done” and remembered when Glover came up with the initial idea for “Swarm,” he mentioned a Tweet that asked, “Why does every Black woman on TV have to be a therapist or a funny best friend or someone looking for love or a teacher? We can be crazy. We can be serial killers, too. And the rest is ‘Swarm.’”
Fishback talked about her approach to the character, noting that she normally writes journals to get into the proper headspace. “But with Dre, on paper, there’s really no psychological thread for her,” she said. “I didn’t want to try to force anything. One of the things that Janine and Donald said a lot was that she’s emotionally stunted.”
Despite the shocking onscreen violence and twisted lead character, Chloë Bailey — who came to fame as a singer-songwriter — had a simple answer as to whether “Swarm” altered her own perception to today’s fandoms.
“It didn’t,” she said.
Now, we’re left to wonder if Beyoncé feels the same way — not that this is about her.
“Swarm” premiered Friday, March 10 at the 2023 SXSW Festival. Prime Video will release the series Friday, March 17.