Even if you don’t know his name, you know his haircut. You know his wild kinetic dance moves and infectious energy. You have heard his passionate singing voice and his unique warmup routine. You’ve seen him all over Twitter, YouTube and Facebook meme groups.
Correll Bufford, Buff Correll online, is a viral American internet personality who has been uploading dance covers onto web streaming platforms for more than a decade, and his popularity has seen peaks and valleys over the years. Although most of his uploads have yet to break the ten thousand mark, his first ever cover – a waist up video of him upper-body break-dancing to Beyonce’s Drunk in Love – has garnered over 1.1 million views as of this month. What is perhaps more impressive than the visual delight of his dance moves is the consistency of his output; Correll often uploads multiple times per day, totalling around ten to twelve videos a week. 2019 marked a bit of a renaissance for his channel after he started taking song requests from Facebook and YouTube comments. Quickly co-opted by ‘Patrician’ music groups and meme circles across the internet, Correll has now danced – and sung – his way through several Death Grips, Mitski, Radiohead and Doja Cat tracks.
Despite the amount of Buff content freely accessible, he still largely remains an incomprehensible online enigma in the eyes of many. His social media presence – as if not already bizarre enough – consists of uploading sometimes over 100 selfies and mirror photos a day, counterpointed by the occasional link to a RnB track with the caption ‘JOINT’. As such, the lore surrounding his character has ballooned to an entire fictional universe. Conspiracy theories fly left and right about his extreme hairdo, the content of his funny-sounding vocal warmups, why he has a poster of himself up on the wall and why he always dances in front of a mirror. I was one of those conspiracy theorists, unsatisfied with mere speculation, and I needed to find out the truth.
Correll was not an easy man to reach. Having hit the maximum cap for friends on Facebook, my best shot was to send him a DM and hope for the best. Radio silence ensued for over two weeks as my hopes of ever talking to him faded – it wasn’t that he hadn’t seen the message, it was that he had almost instantly seen it and had ghosted me ever since. A full 18 days later, I woke up to a startling reply: Buff Correll’s had not only agreed to an interview, but had sent me his phone number and a time I should reach him at.
The following transcript comes from my hour-long conversation with him.
Chuyi: How did you get started with making your videos? What motivated you to start posting them online?
Correll: It was in 2010 and I was working out and I was trying to better myself, and I didn’t like the music on the radio – it had totally changed. I just didn’t like the music, one of my favourite artists stopped doing his thing, and MJ had just passed away, so I really wanted to start doing music. I went through with my gym process and when I saw my abs I got so much confidence to follow through. I posted that Beyonce video, which was my first singing video, and got the biggest crowd reaction I’ve probably ever gotten.
Chuyi: So when you say you didn’t like the music on the radio in 2010, what sort of music are you into?
Correll: When I first started, I liked Ginuwine, Prince, MJ and George Michael. Because I had a predominantly black audience, I decided I needed to be making RnB videos and Ne-Yo type music. My first one-million-view video – a cover of Drunk in Love – got on World Star Hip Hop and that’s where a lot of my early audience came from.
Chuyi: What was their initial reaction?
Correll: I got a lot of negative comments starting out. Everyone was just like “what are you doing, why do you have a poster of yourself?” I’ve gotten a lot better at handling the hate throughout the years, but at some point it started invading my personal life. It got out of hand when my co-workers started talking about how I was the guy in the Beyonce video, and people looked at me differently as I got bigger and bigger.
Chuyi: What gave you the persistence to keep going despite all the negativity?
Correll: I just couldn’t stop – I wasn’t really doing anything in my life and it was so much fun. When I was down and out I used to just drink, but this was better than that. It’s become a real passion: I just keep doing it, it doesn’t matter if I’m not good at it and I feel I can keep going if I wanted to. It’s about keeping a schedule and proving yourself wrong everyday.
Chuyi: One thing I’ve always wondered about is your schedule actually. How do you keep up to the pace of uploading multiple videos a day?
Correll: I wake up at about 5am every day and eat oatmeal and bananas. I cycle to the gym – I’m a real gym rat, I’ve been with a personal trainer for five years and I probably spend about 3 hours working out every day there. Once I’m done with that I come home, I check who’s commenting on the page and then get the equipment ready. I iron my pants, listen to the original song a couple of times and then just go for it. And depending on how I’m feeling I might do three or four a day.
Chuyi: You mentioned before that you work? What field do you work in?
Correll: I used to have a job, cleaning and being a janitor, but not any more. You see, I was on America’s Got Talent last year and I actually got booed off the stage. It was so humiliating, and I remember walking off into the waiting room with everybody staring, and going back to the hotel and calling my mom. When I got back to work in Arizona, I was so ashamed of myself. I told myself ‘you really gotta do better than that, man.’ I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that I choked right there on the stage when I was so close to getting to a wider audience. So when I quit everything, it was so I could have more time to do my thing and improve my craft. That’s when I started paying much more attention to how I looked and sounded, so I’m not really surprised that I’ve gotten bigger. It’s about proving that I am worthy to be up on that stage again.
Chuyi: I think one reason so many people are drawn to your videos is because of your super energetic dancing. Where do you get the moves from, and what inspired you to start dancing?
Correll: Dance is the most motivational thing you can do I think. There’s nothing quite like hitting a move right on the beat. I think most people have forgotten about dance – I’ve never seen anybody else putting out solo dance videos on Facebook, even though we’re all interested in what other people’s styles are. You used to have Soul Train and things like that, but not anymore. It’s gotta be good music though, it’s gotta be something that really makes you groove. I don’t think I’ve borrowed my dance moves from anyone else, it’s just a form of personal expression that’s unique to me.
The mirror really helps – I think if there was no mirror I don’t think there would be Buff Correll. I remember once my teacher wrote to my father: if your son concentrated on his studies as much as he does his looks, he’d be a straight-A student. But a mirror helps you see who you are, and visualise yourself. It connects me with my body. That’s helped me realise that I’m different. Ever since I was a kid, I used to ask my father: is something going to happen to me? Am I going to change? Look at me now.
Chuyi: Is your father a big part of your life?
Correll: Yeah, I think so. I actually joined the military, because I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and belong to something. Wear the uniform, you know. But that time in training really made me realise that I was different, that I couldn’t fit in. I was drinking and smoking cigarettes for so long and trying to hide myself and who I truly am, but I think I’ve learned not to do that anymore.
I get pretty put off when people think what I’m doing is a joke, or that I’m putting on a character. This is how I genuinely am – Lady Gaga says ‘Born This Way!’ People don’t know my life, they’re not close to me. They don’t understand.
Chuyi: Wait, you were in the military?
Correll: That was probably one of two life-changing experiences for me. I think a lot of people go into basic training you know, super serious and looking to do harm to themselves. But I was really enjoying the exercises and the food I was eating – I wanted abs at the end of it, so I was just focusing on getting myself into the best soldier I could be. Actually, when I was out there on the field doing the chants and marches, I just couldn’t stop dancing. I remember the drill sergeant pulled me out in front of everyone just to make fun of me. I couldn’t help myself – when you hear that ‘Left! Left! Left Right Left!’ it’s like the beat hitting and it just made me go ‘Oooooo!’
I think a lot of people enjoyed basic training, but the army is different – it’s just like a 9 to 5 job. My first station was Missouri, and I really enjoyed that. But when I got sent out to Korea, that’s probably what broke the camel’s back. I didn’t feel like I belonged, and I never felt like I was in the community with the other soldiers. I was always broke, and I was just constantly smoking, drinking and eating bad. I would eat Snickers for a morning meal because nobody was telling me I couldn’t do that. You know, even in the army I had a photo of myself up on the wall. I used to cut pictures of my head and put them on Michael Jackson’s body. I was disappointed because I wanted so bad to be a first sergeant, which is what my father was. But at some point I was just sick of being unhealthy and not matching those images and so I had to come back home. I think it made Buff Correll stronger, and made me more determined to become my own different self.
Chuyi: You mentioned two life-changing experiences – what was the other one?
Correll: When I came back from Korea I was very depressed. I went back to drinking, getting into gangs and messing around with women. People could see I had changed, and that I wasn’t really comfortable. But then something else happened – I was with a group, and we were doing our thing and constantly getting into fights at the club. It’s a small town, you know, and there were some people that weren’t approving of that. I got shot at at a restaurant, and I remember running away from the scene thinking ‘I can’t catch a break, I can’t do nothing that would prevent this from happening, I gotta change my life.’
That night, I went home and I threw away my phone, my cigarettes, my liquor, everybody I was kicking it with. I thought about going to the gym and I hired a personal trainer – Diez was his name. All my friends were telling me ‘Hey man, let’s get back to the streets, let’s keep doing our thing.’ But once I saw my abs that was it – it went from this downhill spiral to having a choice. I either go back and get killed or keep doing this thing. I think when that gun went off I really got a kick in the butt.
Chuyi: The posters on the wall of yourself, is that an empowering thing then? To show you how far you’ve come?
Correll: People call it narcissism on my Facebook but I think it’s really important for me. When I wake up and the first thing I see is the poster of me, it’s like taking a step back and looking at myself. You never know what’s going to happen the next day or the day after that, so having these old photos of myself gives me a lot of confidence. It shows me that I’ve achieved something once.
Chuyi: What’s the long-term plan for the Buff Correll project? Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
Correll: I think I’m just gonna keep singing and dancing. I really want to dance for large crowds, and motivating people to dance as well. I see myself one day doing sell-out tours. Not in the immediate future, obviously, but I’m going to continue no matter what happens. I want to get back on America’s Got Talent and prove the world – and myself – wrong.
This interview took place in late 2019. Since then, Correll has been ignoring my DM’s on Facebook. I have been trying to reach out for a follow up interview ever since.