When does fandom become too much? That’s the question at the center of Swarm, the new Prime Video series about a young fan whose love for a global superstar leads to a murder spree. Created by Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, Swarm begins with the broke Dre (Dominique Fishback) getting tickets to see her favorite artist Ni’Jah perform on her upcoming tour — by the end of the limited series, an impressive number of bodies has piled up as Dre gets her revenge against anyone who might slam Ni’Jah on social media.
Fishback tells Consequence that her casting was ironic, “because I don’t know that I’ve ever been a super-fan except for when I was a kid, when I loved Aaliyah and Michael Jackson. And still, even then I didn’t have the capacity, for some reason, to think that I could actually see Michael in concert. I never asked my mom for concert tickets to see the people that I loved. I had B2K on my wall, just like any other teenager. But otherwise, I didn’t really have that experience.”
While there are plenty of adults who engage in intense fandom, Fishback notes that “for Dre, even though she’s an adult, I think she’s still very much a kid, and that’s why her obsession is the way it might be.”
Nabers, a playwright who previously worked on shows including Dietland, Watchmen, and Atlanta, says that the idea for Swarm came about while she was working on Atlanta Season 4. “Donald called me and said, ‘Hey, I have this crazy idea about a Black woman fan that’s obsessed with a popstar,'” she says. “We sat down with each other over the course of six months and really hammered out this story over the course of two and a half years of this woman’s life, giving the pilot her origin story, the beginning of her journey. By the end of the pilot, she is changed, she is now set on some journey. That is our story. A very, very complete, beginning, middle, and end.”
The story of Swarm takes its inspiration from real-life events, including the rumored death by suicide of a Beyonce fan (which has been debunked). “We are really happy that we’re really able to kind of figure out the story in a real way, in terms of just these two and a half years of this woman’s life. A lot of research went into it. We’re really, really proud of it. We’re just really excited for people to watch episodes and Google and see the truth behind it,” Nabers says.
There wasn’t an initial true story used as inspiration, though. Instead, Nabers says, “The idea was, ‘Oh, let’s talk about fandom. And let’s find facts that kind of support our theory — is this a story to tell for TV?’ And we did. And that’s what that is.”
While the musical artist Ni’jah is not a real person, her music does exist, as featured in the series: Composer/producer Michael Uzowuru (Guava Island, Becoming), in addition to providing the score for the series, produced original songs alongside Childish Gambino (Glover), with KIRBY providing the singing voice of Ni’jah. (The track “Sticky” is in fact Consequence‘s Song of the Week.)
“Ni’Jah is supposed to represent a feeling of who is the most iconic Black woman representing our culture today in music, who really has a footprint on the internet and really has a footprint just on just social media in general,” Nabers says. “I think just finding a way to emulate that without seeing her face, but hearing this really cool original music, was the goal. I think that we nailed it — obviously, people can project whoever they want onto Ni’Jah, but Ni’Jah is a feeling and is a familiar entity in our universe.”
Prior to getting the role, Fishback says she wasn’t told anything about the project in question. Instead, she says, “They told me that Donald wanted me for a role, and they said, just watch this movie, it’s called The Piano Teacher.”
Watching the 2001 Michael Haneke drama, about the titular piano teacher (Isabelle Huppert) who begins a sadomasochistic relationship with a student, Fishback observed that “it’s really about her eyes. She’s not really using dialogue, it’s really about storytelling through her body and her face. I was like, ‘Okay, cool. I want to do something like that.’ And then it just took a completely different turn than I ever expected. It freaked me out and it made me say, I don’t know if I’m that brave of an actor, and I thought I was a brave actor. It really made me question what that meant.”
Then, Fishback took the meeting with the producers, who began explaining the show, including the fact that they wanted her to play the role of Marissa, the best friend of the main character who meets a sad end in the first episode. “Then I read the script,” Fishback says, “and I was like, listen, I want to play Dre.”
She says that “Donald said that the reason why he thought of Marissa [for me] was because Marissa has a very friendly energy and a warm aura and is popular. But it wasn’t because he thought I couldn’t do Dre. In fact, he said, ‘If that’s the role you want, that’s the role you get.’ So I didn’t have to audition for it. He gave it to me. That was a pretty cool moment.”