Swarm: Was Billie Eilish's role inspired by the controversial NXIVM cult?

Donald Glover and Janine Nabers direct Swarm. (Photo via YouTube/Sportskeeda)
Donald Glover and Janine Nabers direct Swarm. (Image via Sportskeeda)

Billie Eilish left her fans and others stunned with her appearance in Swarm, which began streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, March 17, 2023. The seven-time Grammy award winner appeared as Eva, the leader of a women's empowerment cult in episode 4 of the TV series.

The black comedy-drama deals with a young woman, Dre, who is obsessed with pop star Ni'Jah and goes to extreme lengths to stay loyal to her. Billie Eilish's character made an appearance in the episode titled Running Scared when she saved Dre from an untoward incident involving police officers.


Afterward, Eva introduced Dre (Dominique Fishback) to her “women’s empowerment group” and put her through “therapy sessions,” where the young girl revealed her dark past and lust for murder. Using these as recordings, Eva and her team blackmailed Dre, which led to bloody consequences for all.

Many found Billie Eilish's Eva bore an uncanny similarity to NXIVM leader Keith Raniere. While speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Janine Nabers, co-executive producer and co-creator of Swarm confirmed the rumors.

Billie Eilish’s Eva was inspired by NXIVM’s leader Keith Raniere

Before Swarm hit the online space, viewers got a glimpse of Billie Eilish's character through various social media posts and trailers that were released in the run-up to the premiere.

The singer’s chilling portrayal of Eva left everyone in awe. However, many thought the character arc was eerily similar to Keith Raniere, the co-founder and leader of the Clifton Park-based s*x-cult NXIVM.

NXIVM (pronounced Nexium) came to the spotlight in 2018 when Raniere was arrested for crimes related to a secret society within the cult. Named DOS or The Vow, it s*xually exploited and brainwashed several women, including 15-year-old girls, apparently for their personal and professional development.

Like the DOS victims, the members of Eva’s group DecaWin were also branded with symbols as a mark of their loyalty. Further, in the show, DecaWin promotes itself as a “women’s empowerment group,” which is aimed at “unlocking female potential by teaching, learning, training, and most of all, healing.”


Meanwhile, NXIVM was projected as a personal development and multi-level marketing firm.

In 2020, the court sentenced Raniere to 120 years of jail time and a $1.75 million fine, while in Swarm, Dre murdered Billie Eilish's character in a fit of rage.

Nabers sheds light on NXIVM inspiration and Billie Eilish's casting

When The Hollywood Reporter asked Nabers about the similarity, the playwright answered in the affirmative. She said:

“There is a cult that existed in the world that was very prominent during that time…And that is the kind of true-crime element to that episode. And I think that when people think of the idea of artists or celebrities, there is this idea of thinking about the cult of Taylor Swift, or the cult of the Beatles or whatever.”

The Writers Guild of America Awardee continued:

“What we were really interested in was just seeing someone who worships at the altar of ‘something,’ and (exploring) this idea of what is the cult of the mind.”

As for Billie Eilish's inclusion in the Prime show, she said that the casting director of the series Carmen Cuba pitched the singer’s name.

The Ocean Eyes crooner didn’t have any acting roles under her belt, but Nabers went with her because she’s a “multi-hyphenate.” She said, “We gravitate toward people who are juggling multiple hats.”

All episodes of Swarm are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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Edited by Adelle Fernandes
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