The "Real" Milli Vanilli.
"The one thing I've learned; a lot of things are very controlled. When it comes to answering questions, and because I went through what I went through, being open is the best way because in the end, what is always comes out. What isn't always comes out. If you're not what you are, it will always come out and I learned my lesson the hard way."
— Fabrice Morvan
There are scandals in the pop music world, and then there's Milli Vanilli,
a musical duo made up of Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus (listed in the liner notes of their hit record Girl You Know It's True
as "Rob & Fab, The Brothers Of Soul"). Milli Vanilli were one of the most promising young pop acts of their time, and released the singles "Girl You Know It's True," "Baby Don't Forget My Number" and "Blame It On The Rain," to major success. However, their tenure on the charts ended abruptly when it was discovered that Rob & Fab were not only lip synching their songs, but never actually sung the tracks on record.
Producer Frank Farian, formerly the songwriter behind Boney M, had been a producer for some time after, and sought to create a group that combined pop music with hip hop. The studio musicians he assembled were musically up to par, but the vocalists - Charles Shaw, John Davis, Brad Howell, and twin sisters Jodie and Linda Rocco - didn't seem to fit any sort of marketable image. In what was a common practice in Farian's time - Boney M was fronted by Bobby Farrell but the vocals were usually sung by Farian, Marcia Barrett and Liz Mitchell - Farian hired two models he found in a Munich
dance club to serve as the frontmen for the band, tempting them with a large advance and then informing them that they were going to lip sync all the music in public. The pair, already signed, reluctantly agreed.
The debut, All Or Nothing
(1988) set the tone for their output, with Europop
music informed by Hip Hop
. Arista Records, liking what they heard, snapped them up for a North American release. Leaving some songs behind, some new songs were added and the track list was shuffled into a new album, titled Girl You Know It's True.
This album went six times platinum, and the title track became their Signature Song
In late 1989, the image showed the first sign of crumbling when Rob & Fab were caught lip synching at a performance in Bristol, Connecticut. A performance of "Girl You Know It's True" stumbled when the recording skipped ("Girl you know it's- "Girl you know it's- "Girl you know it's- "Girl you know it's- "Girl you know it's-"
) This was made worse by the fact that the whole thing was caught by MTV
cameras. This didn't seem to divert their success, as in February of 1990, they won a Grammy for Best New Artist.
Charles Shaw, one of the real vocalists in the actual Milli Vanilli band, actually spoke out at one point that he had sung on the album and that Rob & Fab were frauds, but Frank Farian paid him $150,000 to retract the statements and keep quiet. Rob Pilatus by this time was making cocky statements to magazines such as "I'm the new Elvis
" and the two were increasingly pressuring Farian to let them record actual vocals on the next Milli Vanilli album. Having had enough of all the pressures, Farian finally confessed on November 12, 1990, that the duo did not, in fact, sing any of the Milli Vanilli material. To say that there was a backlash would be, uh... putting it pretty mildly.
Rob & Fab returned their Best New Artist Grammy
, a class-action lawsuit was filed, and Arista Records responded to the media backlash by dropping Milli Vanilli from their roster and deleting their music from their archives, effectively putting their music out of print. Refunds were even issued to concertgoers and record buyers.
The group's second album was eventually released in Europe and Asia under the title The Moment of Truth
, credited to "The Real Milli Vanilli." It had been edited from its original intended form to incorporate Ray Horton and Gina Mohammed, two younger, more "marketable" singers who simply re-recorded material already completed by the actual original band members or sang along with them on finished tracks. They were incorrectly credited at many points on the album, but they did at least sing. Mohammed was falsely and retroactively given credit for the Rocco twins' vocals on the first album in order to further "legitimize" the new group. While the first single from the album was a hit in some countries, the group failed to maintain the success of its Rob & Fab-fronted incarnation.
After three years of vocal lessons, Rob & Fab, under that name, released a self-titled album and even appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show to perform their lead single ACTUALLY live. The public, however, was done with the whole thing
, and the album sold somewhere between 1,000 and 3,000 copies, going almost immediately out of print. Unconfirmed rumors claim that Rob, Fab, Farian and the original band reconciled in order to put out a comeback album entitled Back And In Attack
in 1998. If it was ever real at all, it was never released; Rob Pilatus, after having fallen on hard times, abusing drugs and even committing robberies, was found dead of an alcohol and prescription pill overdose on April 2, 1998. He was 32 years old.
Fabrice Morvan has since gone solo and continues to perform to this day. A biopic about Milli Vanilli is in the works courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Tropes associated with Milli Vanilli include:
- The Band Minus The Faces: The Real Milli Vanilli.
- Broke the Rating Scale: Beavis and Butt-Head once flipped to one of Milli Vanilli's videos, to which they had the rare response of staring in horror, unable to make any of their trademark wisecracks, and then changed the channel.
- Broken Record: "Girl you know it's- Girl you know it's- Girl you know it's-"
- Clumsy Copyright Censorship: Hoo boy. They made an appearance on The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 as the Princess' favorite pop group, but after the scandal, their performance was overdubbed by an instrumental piece, rendering the cartoon Rob & Fab voiceless over the new music. Oddly appropriate, isn't it?
- Cover Version: Of Deep Purple's "Hush" of all songs.
- They also covered the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing" and Boney M's "Ma Baker."
- Determinator: Fabrice Morvan, to this day, is still pursuing pop stardom on his own terms - yes, over two decades later - and even released a new single in 2012.
- Double Standard: Even though this band is hardly the ONLY band where the musicians don't sing their actual vocals and relied on playbacking they are still the only ones whose careers were destroyed by the revelation.
- Downer Ending: Nothing about the Milli Vanilli story really ended well for anyone involved, especially for the late Rob Pilatus.
- Karma Houdini Warranty: That is, except for Frank Farian, who went right back to producing and even spawned a few short-lived hitmakers in the 1990s, like La Bouche, Le Click and No Mercy. Beyond those mild successes, his name's fallen into obscurity and is most associated with Milli Vanilli.
- Greatest Hits Album: Yes, they have one, although it contains a remixed version of "Girl You Know It's True."
- The Invisible Band: A particularly infamous example.
- Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: 2.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Very 2.
- Oh, Crap: The duo fled the stage when the record started skipping and they realized their cover was blown.
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Nowadays they are better remembered for the playback scandal than for their actual music.
- Red Baron: "Rob & Fab: The Brothers Of Soul."
- Repetitive Audio Glitch: One of the most infamous in history; this was the point when people started to catch on to the fraud.
- Role Ending Misdemeanor: For pretty much everyone involved.
- Self-Deprecation: "How long? 'Til these guys sing for themselves!"
- Silly Love Songs: Love songs don't get much sillier than Milli Vanilli.
- That Syncing Feeling: When the record began to skip during their 1989 MTV concert, Milli Vanilli knew the gig was up.
- We Don't Suck Anymore/Win Back the Crowd: Attempted with their appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, when they sang the new song "We Can Get It On" by themselves. They did indeed sing it... but their nervous, unpolished vocals (with a little Vocal Range Exceeded on Fab's part) impressed nobody, and the subsequent album failed miserably.
- Your Normal Is Our Taboo: An oft-forgotten part of this whole mess was that having frontmen who simply acted as the Face of the Band but contributed nothing more than their looks was quite common in Europe. Not crediting the actual band, however, was quite something else.