All The Real-Life Inspiration and Beyoncé References in Swarm
Each episode of the Prime Video series Swarm begins with a disclaimer: “This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is intentional.” While the scripted horror comedy follows the specific journey of troubled superfan Dre (Dominique Fishback), who goes to unspeakable lengths to defend her favorite artist Ni’jah (Nirine S. Brown), the seven-episode series also offers a parable on the toxic side of stan culture, fueled by several references to a real-life superstar and her buzzing, dedicated fan army.
Swarm never mentions Beyoncé by name, but the series is filled with nods that span years of the “Break My Soul” singer’s career, from her personal dramas to her most iconic performances. The show also takes inspiration from true crime and other real-life events to build its examination of mindless fandom. Read on for the biggest references included in the series.
Lemonade and Swarm‘s Timeline
Swarm‘s first episode, “Stung” includes an introduction to Ni’jah, via an opening montage interspersed with several Beyoncé references. Among the flashes are a Spotify profile image of the pop star wearing a feathered look similar to the opening outfit in Beyoncé’s HOMECOMING documentary; a shot of Dre’s souvenir tickets for a group called Glamour’s Child; and a clip of Ni’jah’s backup dancers wearing a picture of the pop star and her husband, named Caché, posing in a recreation of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s suit looks from their “APESHIT” music video. The inspiration from the real-life superstar is clear, even before we learn that the titular Swarm is the name of the fictional star’s fandom, similar to the infamous BeyHive.
The premiere also establishes that the show will take place in the recent past, with a title card reading, “Houston, Texas. April 2016.” On April 23, 2016, Beyoncé released the iconic surprise album Lemonade, and later in “Stung,” Ni’jah drops a visual album titled Festival. This parallel event sets the tone for the rest of the series, which takes place between 2016 and 2018 and references several well-known events from both the “Formation” singer, and the BeyHive’s, history.
The Elevator Fight
In Episode 3, “Taste,” Dre travels to Los Angeles to confront Alice Dudley, a conservative Internet personality who regularly bashes Ni’jah on Twitter. The character mainly spoofs conservative pundits’ reaction to Beyoncé’s 2016 Super Bowl Halftime Show performance, in which she and her dancers’ wardrobes paid homage to the Black Panthers during the song “Formation.” However, one of her Tweets also criticizes Ni’jah for not stopping an argument between her sister and Caché in an elevator.
In addition to the reference, the show includes a shot-for-shot recreation of the leaked 2014 video that seemed to show Solange Knowles hitting Jay-Z in an elevator at The Standard hotel in Manhattan. Swarm also nods at Solange’s music throughout the show, with several characters telling Dre that they prefer Ni’jah’s sister’s music, at one point calling it more “spiritual.” These mentions often annoy Dre, in an interpretation of a toxic fan who would pit the superstar sisters against each other.
Who Bit Beyoncé?
Episode 4, “Running Scared,” starts with a montage of fan responses to the infamous mystery that swept through the Beyhive (and the rest of the Internet) in early 2018. In a GQ interview published that March, comedian Tiffany Haddish shared an anecdote from a party she attended, where she saw an actress bite Beyoncé in the face. “Running Scared” recreates the online frenzy that followed the news, with members of the Swarm posting through their outrage and investigating who could’ve bit their queen.
Major spoilers for Swarm ahead. Of course, viewers already know the true culprit who bit Ni’jah. Throughout episode 3, “Taste,” Dre had finessed her way backstage for the final show of Caché’s First Last Tour. (The fictional rapper’s album cover includes a similar font to Jay-Z’s 2017 project 4:44.) After she gets rid of the crew worker who she charmed into granting her access, Dre enters the show’s afterparty and comes face to face with Ni’jah for the first time. She gets overwhelmed and enters a sort of trance from being so close to the star, and while she thinks she’s eating hors d’oeuvres, she’s actually biting her favorite artist.
As a horrified Dre flees the party and the stunned guests, she passes by a pair of staffers smoking out back. As she rushes by, “You know who that was? The chick from Love & Basketball.” The film’s star, Sanaa Lathan, is later named as a suspect in the BeyHive’s investigation, just as she was after the real-life incident.
“Running Scared” follows Dre in April 2018, as she’s traveling through Tennessee to see Ni’jah perform at the music festival Bonnaroo (a nod to Beyoncé’s headline performance at Coachella). On the way, she’s adopted by a group of wellness-focused white women led by the charismatic Eva (played by Billie Eilish in her acting debut). Though they promise that they can get her an artist pass for the festival, they eventually reveal their sinister motives, as Eva steals Dre’s phone and gets her to reveal her darkest secrets in “therapy” hypnosis sessions.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Swarm co-creator Janine Nabers confirmed that Eva’s cult DecaWin was inspired by NXIVM, with the fictional cult members also having initials carved into their shoulders, similar to those in the sex-cult’s subgroup DOS. Eva and her subjects also use Dre’s phone and her as “collateral” to use against her if she doesn’t follow protocol, just like former NXIVM members have reported.
Though Dre eventually escapes the cult, she misses Ni’jah’s performance, and ends the show watching fan-recorded videos, like so many of us did in the aftermath of Beychella.
The On The Run II Tour
During a mall visit in episode 5, “Girl, Bye,” Dre sees a poster for Ni’jah and Caché’s Running Scared II Tour. The black and white styling of the ad evokes the campaign for Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On The Run II Tour, which was one of the superstar’s biggest tours ever (at least until the Renaissance Tour begins later this year). In the brief moment, Dre touches the fictional tour’s poster with reverence, calling back to the scene in the premiere where she opened a new credit card to get two very expensive Ni’jah tickets for herself and Marissa.
We don’t see Dre make it to a Ni’jah concert until Swarm‘s finale, “Only God Makes Happy Endings.” In the episode’s ambiguous final scenes, the superfan, who now goes by Tony, wades through to the front of the crowd before they jump on the stage and try to embrace Ni’jah. A real-life fan did a similar rush at the end of an August 2018 stop of the OTR II tour, making it onto the stage before the dancers and security realized what was going on.
The Swarm incident diverges from real life, with Ni-jah (now showing the face of Marissa) allowing Dre/Tony to address the cheering crowd. The duo then exit the venue huddled together, with the superstar embracing the superfan the back of her limo. The series ends on this dreamlike scene, leaving viewers to form their thoughts on what exactly we just watched.