'SWARM' & THE POP STAR HIVE MIND
Donald Glover's new Amazon series critiques 'stans' culture
The term ‘stan’ or ‘stans’ is 21st century slang for what Merriam-Webster defines as “to exhibit fandom to an extreme or excessive degree: to be an extremely devoted and enthusiastic fan of someone or something.” Whether its the “Swifties” of Taylor Swift or the “BeyHive” of Beyonce, social media has taken the screaming girls of back-the-day Beatlemania and pushed into hyperdrive, connecting fans to the artists, and each other, in a manner inconceivable even a decade ago. The anger that’s aimed on line at critics, rival performers or businesspeople in conflict with the adored star can be unrelenting and, on occassion, leaks into the real world.
Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, alumni of the justly acclaimed, though inconsistent, series ‘Atlanta,’ have taken on ‘stans’ culture by creating a multi-part series in Amazon called ‘Swarm.’ I have only seen two episodes, but feel confident in recommending it, not just as entertainment, but as biting social commentary on the dark side of intense identification with a star. Dominique Fishback, who was so brilliant on HBO’s ‘The Deuce,’ plays Dre, a confused young woman who’s devotion to a Beyonce-like singer sends her down a rabbit hole of murder and madness.
One of the things ‘Atlanta’ did best was fold sharp criticism of recurring tropes in African-American culture into every show. In the process the series presented some of the most compelling critical thinking on music, fame, celebrity, appropriation, exploitation, and survival in these United States and, for one season, Europe. Mashing up hip hop, European art cinema, Glover’s precise comic eye, and a boldness lacking in most peak TV, I found ‘Atlanta’ compelling even when its was too self-conscious or obscure. I feel that same ambition in these early episodes. It may yet go off the rails at times, but its blend of explicit violence, wry humor, and artful directing promises a window into pop fandown circa the 2020s worth witnessing.