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Amazon Prime’s Swarm is Chloe Bailey’s latest love story as horror

In the opening episode Swarm goes hard for the horror – although not quite as you might expect. Janine Nabers and Donald Glover’s new Amazon Prime series is a fearless look at the terrifying underbelly of Stan culture. Drawing heavily on Beyoncé and her Beyhive, the series follows how Dre’s (Dominique Fishback) participation and dedication to fandom unravels her life and drags her into incredibly dark places.

Nevertheless, it’s Chloe Bailey’s casting that adds a layer of nuance to Glover’s flashy new series. Bailey, one of Beyoncé’s proteges alongside her sister Halle Bailey, adds a layer of realism to Ni’Jah, the fictional pop star who anchors so much of the series. Swarm is Bailey’s first acting project of 2023 – she will also star The Georgetown Projecta horror thriller, and Praise this, a black church musical comedy. Between the lyrical and visual aesthetic of her solo music (in addition to her releases as part of Chloe x Halle) — and her pivotal turn as Marissa in Swarm, Chloe Bailey is clearly drawn to the intersection of love and horror. And she seems particularly concerned with how the extreme edges of love blend into the aesthetics of horror. Her career choices, and her nuanced portrayal of Marissa in particular, reveal a continuous line of horror-streaking love explorations that has characterized much of her artistic output as she continues her rise up Radio Disney’s. The next big thing to one of the most important voices of pop and R&B.

While Dre’s story leads the series, the larger arc of Swarm, and his exploration of how parasocial relationships devolve into real-life decisions and actions, finds its anchor in Marissa. Marissa’s very caring but sometimes dysfunctional relationship with Dre, her “sister,” ultimately catalyzes the twisted, visceral progression of Swarm‘s storyline. Marissa is a relatively more grounded Ni’Jah (Beyoncé in the world of Swarm) than her sister. While Dre is constantly consumed by the buzz of her devotion to Ni’Jah as a card-carrying member of the Swarm, Marissa becomes more concerned about her career as a makeup artist as she does her day job at the mall. She loves and supports Dre, giving her a place to stay and bailing her out when she (regularly) finds herself in unsavory situations.

Bailey plays Marissa with the same genuine tenderness that makes her feel so personal and familiar whether she’s acting Adult or giving a reporter an interview on the red carpet. But there’s a darkness there, intertwined with how selflessly she loves and trusts other people. And the way Marissa combines softness with darkness as a character is reminiscent of Bailey’s own fusion of the two elements in her larger musical body of work – that is, love, or rather Bailey’s ability to believe in love and trust her heart, often drives her to periods of heightened emotion best communicated through horror aesthetics.

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Swarm‘s premiere on Amazon Prime comes just a week before its fifth anniversary The kids are fine, Chloe x Halle’s debut studio album. Released in 2018 to critical acclaim and a pair of Grammy nominations, The kids are fine kickstarted the sister duo’s musical career and saw them riffing on manifestation imagery and Christian iconography – something they have continued to explore throughout their career. On “Everywhere,” the singers demonstrate their understanding of the futility of prayers without work, while later on the album they thread their exploration of relationship with God with the songs “Baptize” and “If God Spoke.” While the latter follows the duo finding solace and safety in God’s words, the former introduces their penchant for subverting Christian imagery. “Keep me in the water while you baptize me / Dip me in the water, I come out the same,” they sing, transforming the imagery of Christian baptism into a larger commentary on the ineffectiveness of submission to assimilation.

On their second album Ungodly hour, which Chloe and Halle executive produced (and which earned them three more Grammy Award nominations for good reason), the sister duo continued their repurposing of classic Christian imagery into a more distinctly horror-adjacent job. The artwork for Ungodly hour features the Bailey sisters adorned with silver angel wings as they pose arm in arm against a blurry amber backdrop while decked out in form-fitting black mini dresses. Both the album’s title and artwork evoke the story of fallen angels hurtling through a vacuum that connects heaven and earth. The album opens with hypnotic harmonies, eerie synths and recognizable vocalizations that evoke the seductive voices of sirens in Greek mythology.

Such choices seem to offer Chloe a chance to more clearly outline how her explorations of love intersect with her dalliances with horror. Together with her sister, she indulges in a murder fantasy, fueled by the depths of her love on “Tipsy”, and asks to be loved and held in the “wicked hour” during the title track. Ungodly hourThe album’s dark aesthetic made for an easy marker of progression from Chloe x Halle’s debut album, but the album’s nods to Greek mythology—the name of their fan base changed from Bailiens to Sirens during this time—and horror aesthetic presented the duo, and Chloe in particular, with a way to reconcile their seemingly disparate musical influences and their Disney-fied journey to mainstream stardom. Certainly, an edgier and sexier sophomore era feels paramount, if not expected, for mainstream pop acts. But for an artist whose previous roles were explicitly linked to Christianity and the black church, the dark parts of Ungodly hour feel more grounded in a unique and authentic aesthetic. Chloe isn’t necessarily running away from her Christian church roots, she’s challenging how to express her own maturity and sexuality as a coexisting truth (just like her mentor did in “Church Girl”).

A still from the

Image: Columbia Music

Chole Bailey seen through a mirror with her arm wrapped around a marble statue in bed

Image: Columbia Music

As an artist who’s worked in the industry since childhood and has a strong connection to Disney, it makes sense that Chloe would gravitate towards horror — an aesthetic almost completely opposite to the glitter of the Mouse House — to mark her maturation in the public eye. Before signing with Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment as the older half of Chloe x Halle, Chloe appeared in church movie musicals such as The fight against temptation And Joyful noise. In 2012, she and her sister won the fifth season of Radio Disney’s The next big thingthe same year Chloe appeared Let it shine — a Disney Channel Original Movie musical in, you guessed it, the church. With her sister starring as Ariel in the live-action remake of The little Mermaid later this year and their stints on Adult not far behind them, Chloe is not so far removed from the puritanism of the Walt Disney Company. Thus, her fascination with horror aesthetics provides her with a crafty way to grow and evolve as an artist and woman.

And her work – no matter what medium she works in – is characteristic of this: In an interview with Dazed, Chloe cited Grimes, Tune-Yards and Missy Elliott as some of her production influences, in addition to Beyoncé, who naturally inspired her and shaped her sound and performance style. Grimes’ glitchy witch doll and Tune-Yards’ experimental loop drums don’t have many natural intersections with Beyoncé’s bombastic populist sheen, but Chloe bridges the two worlds with her use of horror aesthetic.

The juxtaposition of those two worlds is perhaps best expressed on ‘Have Mercy’, Chloe’s debut solo single. A raucous ode to big derrières, “Have Mercy” combines Beyoncé’s signature rap-sung cadence with hip-shaking production courtesy of Murda Beatz. However, it is the song’s accompanying music video that more clearly outlines Chloe’s continued penchant for horror. Ungodly hour‘s use of Greek mythology as she takes on the role of a Medusa-like sorority president who seduces dumb jocks and frat boys with her voice, body, and general sensuality.

“Pray It Away”, the first single from In pieces, Chloe’s forthcoming solo debut album, continues this blend of tragedy and horror. The song marries Chloe’s explorations of the sacred and the secular as she turns to God to satisfy her desire for revenge after being wronged by a lover. She combines dances of praise and gospel choirs with a storm of expletives (she begins the song with six in a row) and proclamations that her “halo is gone”, a natural continuation of the fallen angel imagery of Ungodly hour and the religious basis of The kids are fine. In the music video for “Pray It Away,” Chloe dances in a church seeking some kind of comfort from God – her dedication to the purity of love has eventually led her to the point where she no longer recognizes herself.

This is the same emotional arc that leads Marissa to her death; when she’s on the pills and calls on Dre to be an anchor for her in the middle of a heartbreaking spiral, it’s that innate sweetness that makes the serial killer shine of Swarm. Marissa spends so much time pouring her love into both her boyfriend and Dre that it literally kills her. Once confronted with the unimaginable truth that the two closest people in her life cannot match her capacity and passion for love, Marissa is plunged into a degree of emotional desperation that can only be translated through horror aesthetics. The glassiness of her eyes, the limpness of her unconscious body, and the heartbreaking desperation in her pleas for Dre to record her calls make Bailey’s Marissa both tragic and terrifying – this is what love can turn you into. Like so much of what Bailey does in her music, its power comes from how alternately sweet and terrifying it can be. Of course, Marissa’s death is the start of Dre’s murderous instincts – love and related feelings often misunderstood as love make us do crazy things.