Music: Milli Vanilli

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 and Funk. 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.

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