It’s no secret that Ni’Jah, the pop star at the center of the new Prime Video series Swarm, is a fictional version of Beyoncé. Every episode of the show, Donald Glover’s first since Atlanta, opens with text that reads: “This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or events, is intentional.” In the world of standom, there’s no shortage of toxic stans—superfans who will do anything to protect their favorite artist from criticism or any sort of ill will. Swarm examines what happens when standom is taken to the absolute extreme.
The show follows Dre, a young woman who bonds with her sister and roommate, Marissa, over their mutual love of a fictional pop superstar named Ni’Jah as members of the Swarm—a nod to Beyoncé’s BeyHive. Throughout the seven episodes, as Dre attempts to prove herself as a worthy stan by going to great lengths to deal with critics of Ni’Jah, there are many standout references to Beyoncé—ranging from moments blatantly plucked from her life to small nods to things only true stans will understand.
The show stars Dominique Fishback, who delivers a bone-chilling performance as the unnerving Dre, as well as Beyoncé’s mentee Chloe Bailey (one half of sister duo Chloe x Halle) and Damson Idris, with guest appearances from Billie Eilish, Paris Jackson, and Internet personality Rickey Thompson. We combed through every episode of the new series, which is now streaming, to find every time Ni’Jah’s life or career mirrored Beyoncé’s, compiling a thorough guide to reference as you watch. Spoilers for Swarm abound.
Read more: Review: In Amazon’s Swarm, Donald Glover Pokes the BeyHive. But to What End?
- The opening montage shows a screenshot of an article about Ni’Jah with her husband Caché that is a recreation of a scene from Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “APESHIT” music video.
- There are tickets to a Glamour Child show tacked to Dre’s wall, with the group’s name appearing to be a play on Destiny’s Child.
- Ni’Jah’s Spotify profile shows a photo of her with a similar outfit to the opening number in Beyoncé’s HOMECOMING documentary. The fictional singer also has over 44 million monthly listeners on Spotify, similar to Beyoncé’s current 51 million.
- In the first scene, viewers watch Dre get a brand new credit card to buy tickets to Ni’Jah’s Evolution World Tour—a nod to Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour. Dre proceeds to buy two tickets as a surprise for Marissa’s birthday and wants to keep it a secret.
- When Dre goes on a run to the bodega, we can see her text messages with Marissa that show a photo of Ni’Jah posing with a box from a fast food chain called Frenchys. In a 2003 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé said she is also loyal to a particular fast food chain: she has a lifetime supply card to Popeyes.
- In this episode, we learn the name of Ni’Jah’s fandom, the Swarm, a direct reference to the insects referenced by the BeyHive.
- Dre visits Ni’Jah’s website and much like Beyoncé’s it is sparse and minimalistic. Ni’Jah’s site has a photo of her with three words, “Music,” “Store,” and “Evolution.” Beyoncé’s website, meanwhile, has the words “Music,” “Tour” and “Shop.”
- There’s a wide shot of Dre’s room, and viewers can see a magazine clipping of Ni’jah in a sexy cowboy outfit. This could be a reference to Beyoncé’s Ivy Park Rodeo collection from 2021.
- It is revealed that Ni’jah’s husband, Caché, cheated on her, and in response she releases a surprise album called Festival. Caché is married to Ni’Jah and appears to be this world’s version of Jay-Z. This is mainly a reference to Lemonade, whose songs respond to Jay-Z’s infidelity, though the surprise drop is more reminiscent of Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album from 2013.
- The visuals for Festival that Dre watches on TV are reminiscent of The Gift, the supplemental album Beyoncé released for the 2019 live-action version of The Lion King, as well as Renaissance. Some of the aesthetic elements of Ni’Jah’s video are akin to videos Beyoncé released for the Disney remake, while the horse Ni’Jah rides seems like a reference to the horse on the Renaissance album cover, which the BeyHive on Twitter has aptly nicknamed Reneigh.
- At the start of episode two, viewers see Dre dancing awkwardly on a pole at a strip club to a slow, sad unnamed Ni’Jah song. When she goes into the locker room, one of the strippers tries to tell Dre to pick a more upbeat song. When Dre rejects the suggestion, arguing that it is Ni’Jah’s “most profound song,” the stripper tells her the song is about a dead baby. In Beyoncé’s 2013 documentary, she revealed that she had a miscarriage and wrote “the saddest song [she’s] ever written in [her] life.” The unreleased song is called “Heartbeat.”
- Ni’Jah has twins, just like Beyoncé did in June 2017.
- While driving, Dre recites a Ni’Jah quote: “A woman needs no one.” This is similar to something Beyoncé said during an ABC Thanksgiving special in 2009, “I don’t like to gamble, but if there is one thing I’m willing to bet on is myself.”
- After the party, a lemon air freshener is seen hanging from Dre’s rearview mirror—a nod to Lemonade.
- Dre is also wearing an athleisure set with the words “Honey” on the bands. It can be assumed that the set is a brand from Ni’Jah and can be interpreted as another Ivy Park reference.
- Dre says that she’s from Houston, just like Beyoncé.
- Dre mentions that Ni’Jah has 26 Grammy Awards. While it’s not the same as Beyoncé’s 32, Ni’Jah still has staggeringly more awards than her contemporaries, like the real-life singer.
- A conservative content creator calls Ni’Jah out on Twitter for not stopping an argument in an elevator between her sister and her husband as she stood in a corner. It’s a shot-for-shot recreation of the 2014 leaked TMZ footage incident that showed Solange Knowles shoving Jay-Z in a hotel elevator after the Met Gala while Beyoncé stood in a corner.
- The Alice Dudley character reads as a personification of conservative commentators’ 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.” Her presence at the Halftime Show, singing a song about Black empowerment, upset many conservative pundits (Fox News, in particular, did not enjoy the performance).
- Caché goes on tour for a new album, and the tour is called the First Last Tour, following Ni’Jah’s Festival album. He throws a party to celebrate the end of his tour. The font for Caché’s album is similar to Jay-Z’s 4:44 album, the project he released after Lemonade.
- Dre gets close with one of the staff members on Caché’s tour so she can get access to a party. The guy she befriends is a hardcore vegan, which could be a nod to Beyoncé’s vegan lifestyle (which Bey announced on Good Morning America in 2015—after teasing a “special announcement”. In 2019, she told the New York Times that she is no longer vegan.)
- Dre gets overwhelmed by Ni’Jah’s presence and bites her. Tiffany Haddish told GQ in March 2018 that someone did the same thing to Beyoncé at a party celebrating 4:44. After the news broke, speculation about the identity of the biter reached a fever pitch, with a number of names thrown into the ring. Haddish later all but confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter that it was actor Sanaa Lathan (which she later denied, saying “I would never do anything malicious like that—to her, or to anyone”). As the credits roll at the end of the episode, Dre is seen running out of the party and two workers are smoking outside. One turns to the other and says, “You know who that was? The chick from Love & Basketball,” the 2000 movie in which Lathan starred.
- Given that the episode takes place in 2018 and Ni’Jah is headlining Bonnaroo, a popular music festival, this is a direct reference to Beyoncé headlining Coachella.
- One of the women in the episode says they like “Ni’Jah’s sister better because she’s more spiritual,” which is one way to describe Solange’s music.
- Dre lists her two favorite songs as “Love on a Cloud” and “Don’t Wanna Leave.” The first seems to be a nod to “Love on Top,” and the second could be inspired by “Dangerously in Love.”
- Since Dre doesn’t make it to the festival on time, she watches the performance on her phone as many did when Beyoncé performed at Coachella. It was live-streamed, then later turned into a documentary called Homecoming.
- The episode opens with Rickey Thompson’s character watching a celebrity being interviewed by a talk show host, asking who bit Ni’Jah. Everything about the interview looks similar to John Legend’s interview with Ellen DeGeneres in April 2018. In that interview, DeGeneres asked him if he knew who bit Beyoncé because his wife, Chrissy Teigen, said she knew who the culprit was during an interview on The Today Show.
- After trying to get her phone to work, Dre stumbles upon a tour post for Ni’Jah’s upcoming tour with her husband, “The Running Scared II Tour,” a play on the joint tour Beyoncé did with Jay-Z in 2018, the “On The Run II Tour.”
- This episode takes us out of Dre’s world and instead follows the detective piecing together the clues that Dre is leaving behind. Beyoncé’s name is never mentioned; the text at the beginning reads, “Some names have been redacted for legal purposes.” The detective, Loretta Greene, starts to notice a pattern with victims making disparaging comments about what we can assume is Beyoncé because, again, her name is bleeped or blurred out. One of the tweets she reads says, “Michelle CARRIED,” referring to Michelle Williams from Destiny’s Child.
- Other tweets show Twitter users investigating the identity of the infamous “Becky with the good hair,” the “Sorry” lyric referencing the woman that Jay-Z supposedly cheated on Beyoncé with. After Lemonade was released, the BeyHive purported that “Becky” was fashion designer Rachel Roy because she posted an Instagram photo with the caption, “Good hair, don’t care.” They then began swarming her comments section with bee emojis. In response to the online attacks, Roy tweeted, “I respect love, marriages, families and strength. What shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone, no matter what, is bullying, of any kind.”
- Another tweet shows one of Dre’s victims saying they don’t like Ivy Park; though the words are blurred out, they very much appear to be the name of the fashion label.
- One interview subject who gets introduced is wearing a jumpsuit from the actual Ivy Park collection.
There aren’t any new Beyoncé references in this episode. We see the season end with Dre, who has now assumed the identity of Tony, getting exactly what they want and seeing Ni’Jah live, in what feels like, and may actually be, a fantasy.
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