Chloe Bailey is a pop star whose career was shepherded by Beyoncé, but in Swarm, she’s obsessed with a singer that’s eerily similar to the woman who has championed her career. Swarm hails from the minds of Donald Glover and Janine Nabers. Nabers has worked on UnREAL and Watchmen, and she previously collaborated with Glover on Atlanta, another series that skewers the music industry. Glover, on the other hand, has firsthand experience with pop stardom and the music industry after releasing several albums under the name Childish Gambino.
In Swarm, Glover takes aim at the music industry yet again, but this time from the perspective of a super-fan, also known as a stan. Swarm follows Dominique Fishback’s Dre, a young Houstonian woman who, along with her sister Marissa (played by Bailey), is obsessed with Ni’Jah. This obsession leads Dre down a dark path and, once the season is complete, her life will forever be altered by her love for Ni’Jah and how it has shaped her journey.
Ahead of the premiere of Swarm on Prime Video, Screen Rant sat down with Bailey to talk about the meta elements of her casting, whether she has discussed the series with Beyoncé, and the movie Glover told her to watch before cameras rolled.
Chloe Bailey on Swarm
Screen Rant: As a pop star, you are familiar with stan-dom and fans being over the top, I’m sure. What was it like to relate to Swarm in that way? Did it make it a little bit scarier?
Chloe Bailey: Well, I need the stans and so does my sister. The ones who are the ride-or-dies and fighting for us and defending us and buying the albums and things like that. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here.
What I think is really special about the show is that when people actually get to watch it from the surface, that’s what it seems like it’s about. But it’s really a show about mental health, and a story of sisters, and what happens when one doesn’t have the other; the lengths that she goes to honor her sister and to protect her and to fight for her. That’s what this show really is about, and that’s what truly drew me to it. Because mental health is a serious thing, and it’s real. We all have our different ways of expressing ourselves, and Dre does [in an] interesting, demented way. But her heart has good intentions.
There have been some suggestions that Ni’Jah is in part inspired by Beyoncé, and of course, you know Beyoncé. Have you talked to her about the show?
Chloe Bailey: You’re going to have to ask the queen.
[Laughs] Let me know how, and I would love to.
Chloe Bailey: You can figure it out [laughs].
I love the journey that Dre goes on, but as you said, it’s so unexpected. I went into the show completely blind. When you get the scripts, what did you think of that twist, with Dre dealing with things in some surprising ways?
Chloe Bailey: Well, when I first got the offer to have a meeting with Donald [Glover], the casting director [said to] watch The Piano Teacher and be refreshed on Atlanta. I’ve always loved Atlanta; I just thought it was so genius and skilled with the writing. And I’ve never seen The Piano Teacher, so I really had no expectations about what it was about. I just thought it was a French film about a piano teacher. Man, was I mistaken.
It has become one of my favorite films. It is the most psychologically thrilling [film], and it takes you on such a roller coaster ride. And when I watched that film before I had the meeting with Donald, I was like, “So, what is this about?” Because I didn’t get the scripts at all yet. I just saw “Untitled Donald Glover Project,” and I love him. He’s so smart, and Janine [Nabers] is so intelligent. And even Malia Obama being a part of the writers? It’s just such incredible Black women who are part of this.
Not to mention Dom [Fishback]. She slayed this role, no pun intended. But the different lengths she had to go to, where she had to take her physical and mental being to be able to give us this show, it’s a lot harder than people think. Because when you’re acting in something as vulnerable as this, you’re putting yourself into that character. I’m just so proud to be a part of this with such incredible cast mates.
I can’t believe The Piano Teacher was an influence. Without getting into spoiler territory, what can you tease about Marissa’s role throughout the rest of this season?
Chloe Bailey: What I can tease about Marissa’s role is that she is the light at the end of this very, very dark tunnel. Something else I can tease, which I was so excited to do without breaking the fourth wall and making it weird, [is that] music is a huge part of telling the story and the scoring. I love how through the episodes, you even hear Donald’s voice and a lot of my fellow musician friends who are Grammy Award-winning. They were a part of the music for this show.
Donald invited me to the studio before I put together my tracklist for In Pieces. He heard 30 [or] 40 songs, and I was so excited and nervous and also honored to get his opinion. And to know he was like, “I want to hear all the s–t you produced. I want to hear the weird s–t; play that for me.” It was definitely a boost lifter to be able to find a song; I’d already written over this beat my friend Metro Boomin’ [wrote]. Shout out to him. He’s so incredible and so inspiring to me as a producer as well.
It was this insane beat, he had his infamous 808s and he had a live orchestra playing over, and it felt so haunting. It inspired me to write lyrics that I usually wouldn’t say [about] how I feel. That was a year and a half ago. To be able to know that was the perfect button on that first episode, and to hear it for so long too, was pretty sick.
From co-creators and executive producers Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, Swarm, set between 2016-2018, follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), an obsessed fan of the world’s biggest pop star who sets off on an unexpected cross-country journey.
Check out our other interviews for Swarm here:
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Swarm premieres on Prime Video on March 17.