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Milli Vanilli

Milli Vanilli. The mere mention of the name still calls up the same derision it did when the dance-pop duo's career came to a sudden and ignominious end: Fakers. Frauds. A blatant marketing scam. Their story has been retold countless times: after selling millions of records, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan were revealed to be models who publicly lip-synced to tracks recorded by anonymous studio vocalists. They became the first act ever stripped of a Grammy award and came to symbolize everything people disliked about dance-pop: it was so faceless that every musician involved could remain anonymous without anyone knowing the difference, so mechanical and artificial that the people who constructed it had to hire models to give it any human appeal, so pandering and superficial that people bought it just for its attachment to a pretty face. Whether that assessment was fair or not, it was beyond easy to hold Milli Vanilli in contempt. Yet for all the scapegoating, they were far from the only dance-pop act to be fronted by lip-syncers in the late '80s (the Martha Wash-voiced Black Box and C+C Music Factory spring to mind), nor were they the only Europop act to employ similar marketing tactics. (They were simply the most successful and visible, since their incorporation of rap made them more appealing to Americans.) What's more, pop music had a long tradition of hits recorded by anonymous studio musicians, dating back to '50s instrumental combos and '60s bubblegum. Milli Vanilli had the bad luck to get caught in a hoax during the extraordinarily image-conscious MTV era and a time when dance music of any stripe was accorded virtually no critical respect anyway, before its producers were perceived as the real creative points of focus. It's not as though Milli Vanilli were acclaimed for their honesty of expression before the scandal broke; it's more likely that what fueled the backlash was public resentment over Rob and Fab's celebrity (why should they be famous if they couldn't sing?) and embarrassment over the fact that Milli Vanilli's marketing had worked like a charm on everyone right up through the Grammy committee.

Milli Vanilli was the brainchild of German producer Frank Farian, who'd previously masterminded the European disco group Boney M. and the session-musician rock outfit Far Corporation. Seeking to fuse European dance-pop with elements of American rap, Farian assembled a number of session musicians and vocalists, including rapper Charles Shaw (an Army veteran) and two middle-aged American singers living in Germany, Johnny Davis and Brad Howell (some accounts give his name as Howe). Realizing that he had a marketable record but a distinctly unmarketable image, Farian hired two aspiring models and former breakdancers, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, to pretend to be the group in videos, concerts, interviews, and the like. Pilatus had been born in New York in 1965, but grew up in Munich, spending some time in an orphanage after his parents (an American soldier and German stripper) gave him up for adoption. Morvan was born in 1966 on the island of Guadeloupe, lived in Miami for a time, and moved with his mother to Paris; he had been a skilled trampoline athlete until he suffered a neck injury in a fall. Both skilled dancers, the two had met sometime circa 1984 (differing accounts list their meeting place as Munich, Paris, or Los Angeles) and were attempting to make it as singers, dancers, models, or whatever they could. Their exotic look and long dreadlock extensions were just what Farian was looking for.

Milli Vanilli's first album, All or Nothing, was released in Europe in 1988 and was an instant success. Retitled Girl You Know It's True (after the lead single) and trimmed a bit, the record was issued in the U.S. in early 1989. Its catchy, lightweight pop-rap proved equally popular with American audiences; "Girl You Know It's True" raced up the pop charts to number two, and the next three Milli Vanilli singles -- "Baby Don't Forget My Number," the ballad "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You," and the Diane Warren-penned "Blame It on the Rain" -- all hit number one. Despite near-universal critical distaste (Farian's productions often recycled the same sounds and drum tracks), Girl You Know It's True sold an astounding seven million copies in the U.S. alone; internationally, Milli Vanilli sold approximately 30 million singles. In December 1989, as the fifth single "All or Nothing" was climbing the charts on its way to the Top Five, rapper Charles Shaw revealed to a New York reporter that Pilatus and Morvan had not actually sung any vocals on the album. Shaw quickly retracted his statements (apparently paid off by Farian to keep quiet), claiming that they were merely a PR stunt for his own album. Milli Vanilli was soon nominated for a Grammy award for Best New Artist, even though the rumors continued to swirl. And in early 1990, they won it, for the record beating out the Indigo Girls, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, and Tone-Loc.

Success (or at least fame) was beginning to go to the duo's heads, particularly Pilatus, who was given to extreme mood swings and erratic behavior, and developed a cocaine problem. In an interview with Time magazine, Pilatus compared himself and Milli Vanilli favorably to Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and Mick Jagger, and was roundly ridiculed for his statements. Additionally, Pilatus and Morvan had been pressuring Farian to let them sing all the vocals on the next Milli Vanilli album. Exasperated with them, Farian exposed the whole scheme in November 1990 and the public was furious. Pilatus and Morvan were stripped of their Grammy (ironically, the committee had justified its vote by citing the duo's "visual impact"), and a class-action suit was filed against Arista Records, allowing anyone who believed they'd been defrauded into purchasing the group's records to apply for a rebate. Arista dropped the group and deleted Girl You Know It's True from their catalog, making it the biggest-selling album ever taken out of print.

In 1991, Farian attempted to re-form Milli Vanilli with the original session vocalists (including female backup singer Gina Mohammed), this time crediting them and billing them as the Real Milli Vanilli, while also adding a Pilatus/Morvan look-alike named Ray Horton. However, the resulting Moment of Truth album flopped. Pilatus, meanwhile, was unable to deal with the sudden fall from grace; after mixing alcohol and prescription drugs, he slashed one of his wrists in a Los Angeles hotel, then called police and reporters to the scene, where he had to be removed from the balcony he was threatening to jump off of. Attempting to prove that they really could sing if given the chance, Pilatus and Morvan regrouped in 1993 as Rob & Fab; however, with their credibility damaged beyond repair, their self-titled debut reportedly sold only 2,000 copies total, despite an appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show. Farian had also attempted yet another album, this time renaming his group Try 'N' B and retooling the lineup again to enhance its visual appeal (which meant discarding the original singers); however, Sexy Eyes also stiffed. From there, Pilatus hit rock bottom. Beginning in 1995, he was arrested for several separate incidents in Los Angeles involving assaults (including one man he attacked with a metal lamp base), vandalism, and attempting to break into a car. Convicted of four different misdemeanors, he was sentenced to several months in jail in 1996, and did the first of numerous stints in drug rehab centers for his cocaine addiction. Pilatus eventually returned to Germany; in April 1998, his body was found in a Frankfurt hotel room after he mixed a fatal combination of pills and alcohol. Morvan continues to pursue a solo career. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Comments

pooh_bear333
BA BA BABY DONT FORGET MY NUMBER!
perkins_14
milli vanilli will live on in my heart forever!!!!
Love this and all or nothing
pooh_bear333
Girl you know it's true!
Now one of them died and the other sang live
People act as if Milli Vanilli were only group lip syncing. They were just only ones who just got caught. Regardless of what people think they were awsome performers.
pooh_bear333
BA BA BA BA BABY DONT FORGET MY NUMBER!
No matter what these guys did. everyone makes mistakes there still humans just like me and u let them be at peace I will continue to listen to there music no matter what people say or think about them life goes on no matter what I heard these guys when I got my first real job back in 1988 and meet my first girlfriend and from this day we are still together so I just wanna say thanks Milli vanilli for all the good memories. !!!!!
wayrastar
Blame it on the rain........ l o v e for 15 years now...
wayrastar
blame it on the rain, love it now for 15 years now
pooh_bear333
Blame it on the Rain
Love it
Im lip syncing and its true
pooh_bear333
OMG! GIRL YOU KNOW ITS TRUE!
I'm so in love girl! LOL! They were great!
I love this music it's so sad how it ended. Rip Rob Pilatus I'm so sorry it had to end like this.
I can't believe they didn't give them a second chance.
I like
the music is still awesome and they was great dancers and they could sing and rip Pilatus.
frankenstein s b r a i n s
milli vanilla - girl you know it's true
Still and always will be milli vanilli to me. Ill never see it any other way for life
Seen them in concert when I was 9 back 89! LOVE me some Milli Vanilli lol ; ))
codycousins1
favorite band ever!!!
wilfred.list e r
aaaa laaa h.h.s. dormitory
lumberjillj9
I did the same thing maryecrank! For the same reasons! So nostalgic! To this day 80's is still my favorite music! Y'all should give Flock of Seagulls radio a try, another awesome station!
Great music, Regardless if they are fake or not.
Frank Farian is a genius. Milli Vanilli was and is great music, plus you should also check out Boney M, his previous group. Some of the best 80's music
Teehee guys! I created a Milli Vanilli station on Pandora just to see what I would get. Turns out, the station is AWESOME!! I was under 10 years old when Milli Vanilli experienced their fall from grace, and my Dad to this day says, I never understood why people burned their albums and went crazy over this thing. Either they liked the music or they didn't - the music is still the same. He was right. This station is hugely nostalgic for me.
robb419
It's about entertainmen t anyway, and is it any worse than artists today copying old great songs?
Like calling MC Hammer, Tone Loc phony: Milli Vanilli they were my favorite stand up actors of all time before my incident at 55-60 m.p.h. comatose resulted in loss of Thalmus/key nerve in March 1990 as a senior at Aspen High in practice with National motorcross competitor.
I know they are fakers but hey they bought good music
sandezoscar
Am sorry for all of you but they are the best ok
bowtie82
Geez been awhile
i THINK THEY GOT A BAD DEAL bringsback lots of good memories
I loved them brings me back to.the 80s
It's all good still...
Its all good
jjara95
they will always be Milli Vanilli to me... :) love there music.
blackhawk278 1
still sounds good whether they sang it or not
they were greats artist and made for
I love MILLI VANILLI !!! Brings back alot of great memories (=
Stll great Music, I have the original ALBUM - the record club wanted me to send it back but I refused....I enjoyed (there) the music then and still love it today. If it was such a big deal, why didn't the original people that were supposedly singing come forward???? Still love the music....... . . .
I don't care they where great and I listed them music I just remained my great past that I had :)
Poor b**tards....
kksouthpaw
I LOVED MILLI VANILLI!! Brings back good memories!
I Love This Song,Even If iM 14
ar0d1993
This is better than anything today! True Classic! No Matter What
Still an awesome set of work, and great to boogie to
i agree, despite the controversy i liked their music back then and now. glad to see them on pandora here
Yeah, who cares if they didn't sing the songs, the MUSIC was fantastic at the time, and it's great to hear it again, some 20+ years later!
I want all the pandorians to know WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T PUT THE BLAME ON YOU!
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