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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Earworm Weekly: Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance"

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 9:57 AM

click to enlarge neneh_cherry-raw_like_sushi-frontal_1399759574_crop_550x550.jpg

Some ad company bought a lot of air time during March Madness and saw fit to fill it with a commercial featuring some generically pretty blonde woman in a ponytail dancing around to “Buffalo Stance.” My first thought was, “I hope Neneh Cherry made mad cash on this deal.” My second was, “I know what my column's going to be about this week.”
For the record, the commercial is for the fashion line Express and the blonde is model Natasha Poly, but I had to look all that up. The commercial, in other words, is pretty blah without the song. The tune itself is another story.

But, you ask, what is a “buffalo stance” anyway? For reference, consult the cover of Cherry debut album, Raw Like Sushi. You stand with your feet planted and your arms crossed, and, well, that's it.  There are endless variations: you can cock your head, you can cock your hip. You can stare down the viewer or you can turn your head to the side, aloof. The point is to look tough and immovable, stubborn even. It can be a pose, a put-on, or the move you make just before turning your back on someone and laughing it off with your friends. Or it can be part of a bigger statement about standing strong against whatever obstacles you may face.

Cherry recorded and released “Buffalo Stance” in 1989. The song neatly straddled dance-pop, hip-hop and alternative music – it was the happening new sound that everybody could groove to. Adding to the crossover appeal was the fact that Cherry was a Swedish-born black woman living in the U.K. and thus très cosmopolitan. (In fact, Cherry grew up only part-time in Sweden; her family split their time between Stockholm and New York City, part of a highly musical family headed by her stepfather, jazz pioneer Don Cherry.)

Nowadays the song's sonic blend doesn't seem groundbreaking at all, but it was a welcome breeze back in the day. So was Cherry's forthright attitude. “Buffalo Stance” is a diss song, ostensibly dedicated to Cherry's ex-boyfriend. It puts down gigolos, men who like to flash their cash, and any guy who thinks that sharp fashion and sweet talk is a substitute for personality and sincerity. Yet somehow, Cherry managed to deliver the message not merely playfully but joyfully. Dancing at the club with your girlfriends beats out players every time.

Though she remained a prominent pop star in the U.K. after her debut – sparking a small controversy when she performed on Top of the Pops while eight months pregnant – in the U.S., Cherry was essentially a one-hit wonder. She told Pitchfork that she found the marketing boxes on this side of the pond too tight to fit and her official bio declares that, “although at points in her career [she] had brushes with the mainstream, Neneh remain[s] staunchly counter-culture.”

Which is why it's a little strange to hear her singing over a fashion ad. Well, that's not entirely true. Fashion and style were a big part of Cherry's initial appeal, too – check out the jewelry and the gold satin jacket in the video for “Buffalo Stance” and remember that this look was once not just raw like sushi but just as fresh, too. Not to mention cheeky as heck, to dismiss “money men” while wearing a dollar sign around your neck. It's the cheekiness that the ad really lacks. Or at least, that I miss most.
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Lori Selke

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