WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the series “Swarm.”
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The debut episode of the serial killer series “Swarm” opens with a spin on the classic Hollywood disclaimer, stating that any resemblance to actual persons or events is intentional. This sets the tone for the kaleidoscopic pop culture satire created by Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, with Dominique Fishback playing Dre, a woman so devoted to pop singer Ni’Jah that she is willing to kill to protect her honor. As the storyline unfolds, and with the not-so-subtle parallels to the career and passionate fanbase of Beyoncé, viewers might wonder if there is any truth behind the purported true story of “Swarm.”
The answer is complex. Before delving too deeply, it’s essential to recognize that, at the end of the credits, there is a more conventional title card aimed at mitigating legal risks. It states, “While this story is inspired by certain actual events, it is a work of fiction. The characters and events portrayed are fictitious, and any similarity to or identification with the name, character, or history of any actual persons, living or dead, or any company, is entirely coincidental and unintentional.”
Additionally, Janine Nabers mentioned to Variety, “Everything is legally combed through. If we pushed it, we pushed it to the very, very, very edge, but it’s legal, and we’re proud of that.”
However, what are the “certain actual events”? The series has numerous nods to Beyoncé, starting with the titular fanbase of “Swarm,” reminiscent of the singer’s devoted BeyHive. Here are additional parallels between Ni’Jah and Beyoncé:
- The Ni’Jah visual album “Festival” is a nod to Beyoncé’s 2016 record “Lemonade”: a surprise release about her unfaithful husband.
- Both artists are from Houston.
- Ni’Jah is pregnant with twins, just like Beyoncé was in 2017.
- Characters pit Ni’Jah against her sister, as Beyoncé is often compared to her sister and fellow recording artist Solange.
- There is a reference to an incident where Ni’Jah stood to the side while her sister and husband fought, recalling the infamous elevator battle between Solange and Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z in 2014.
- Dre gets overwhelmed by Ni’Jah and bites her, a nod to a story Tiffany Haddish told about Beyoncé being bitten at a party by a famous fan. The episode also pokes fun at an internet rumor that actor and director Sanaa Lathan was the guilty party (When the two cooks, lounging around on a smoke break spot Dre fleeing from the club, one says, “You know who that was? Chick from ‘Love & Basketball’”). Episode 4 begins with a spoof of Ellen DeGeneres’ interview with John Legend in which she grilled him about what he knew.
- The Ni’Jah outfit in the finale is inspired by Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl dancers
Despite numerous subtle nods, the creative team has been cautious not to explicitly name Beyoncé in the series. During the South by Southwest premiere on Mar. 10, when the moderator asked if a “pop star who shall not be named” had seen the show, Nabers initially confirmed it, but a representative later retracted the answer, stating she doesn’t know who has seen the series. Throughout the premiere, Nabers referred to Beyoncé as “a certain pop star.” Even Chlöe Bailey, a co-star in the series and mentee of Beyoncé, remained guarded when asked if she had seen the show, saying, “You’ll have to ask her that. I can’t speak for her.” Glover’s closest acknowledgment was at the Los Angeles screening when he jokingly said, “Beyhive, don’t kill us.”
Regarding the murders, Nabers mentioned that “every episode, with the exception of Episode 4, has a true foundation for its murder.” Discussing Dre’s murder of her girlfriend Rashida (Kiersey Clemons), she explained, “We found a murder in 2018 that took place in the outskirts of Georgia with a young woman that was brutally killed and discarded in some sort of desert, woodsy area. That was a white woman, but we did our own thing. All of that is based on real situations.”
Nabers also shared an unsettling story at the SXSW premiere that initiated the series concept. She recounted, “In Texas, 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. And my very best friend’s last name is Jackson. So there was a text with some of my friends where we were like, ‘Who is Marissa Jackson?’ For two days, we thought this was a real event, and it was dispelled later on Black Twitter. So when Donald pitched this idea of a Black woman who’s obsessed with the pop star, I said, ‘I know what the pilot is’ and ran with it. So every episode deals with real news stories, real events or internet rumors that have happened, and we have put our wonderful woman at the center of that story.”