Artists: Milli Vanilli

12 01 2012

In a way, Milli Vannili was always going to happen. A pop band who famously didn’t sing on any of their own records, the music industry’s most interesting con.

Milli Vanilli was, or appeared to be Rob Pilatus. the illegitimate son of an American GI in Germany, and Fab Morvan born in France. Two good looking guys who could dance, they fronted the group that briefly in the 1980s were an enormous phenomona, (in)famously picking up a Grammy Award for best new act.

The question about who Milli Vannilli really were of course can be argued endlessly, but the essential point is this – despite appearences for a good couple of years, Rob and Fab never sang on any of their own records, they just mimed at concerts, took the credit and racked up the hits.

Its probably impossible to imagine now, perhaps because we are more cynical about pop bands, perhaps because of the Milli Vanilli affair. It is a shame it is not possible to separate them from the scandal, but in truth it is the scandal that secures their place in the history of pop music. 

Despite the life-ruining abuse that Rob and Fab got in the wake of the revelations, really it was Frank Farian (sort of an evil-looking Keith Chegwin if you can imagine such a thing) masterplan. He had discovered a few singers who could put together some great pop hits, but didn’t really have an image that he thought he could sell. He had had Rob and Fab audition for him, and they looked great, but wasn’t impressed with any actual music they made. So he put two and two together.

Rob and Fab went along with it on the basis that they considered this their shot, and were apparently promised that at some stage in the future, they actually would be allowed to sing on the records. Quite how they thought the public would react to them suddenly having completely different voices all of a sudden remains entirely unexplained.

Their job was to be the front of the band. To be famous all they had to do was dance a bit, do some interviews and mime on stage. It perhaps would have worked if it wasn’t so shambolically handled, but for awhile they did pull the wool over the world’s eyes. They released début album All or Nothing in Europe, before Girl You Know Its True was a giant hit single in America (getting to No1 in 1989) prompting a release of the album in America renamed after the hit track. Curiously, though the European credits are a bit sketchy on who was doing the singing, the American release directly makes it clear that Morvan and Pilatus were the ones doing the vocals on the album.  In the UK both albums were released together as 2 X 2.

The first cracks appeared at a gig for MTV in Connecticut. While the boys were apparently happy singing Girl You Know Its True, the record they were miming to started to skip, playing the line “Girl You Know Its” over and over and over. Fab and Rob carried on manfully for a little bit, before legging it. Weirdly no-one seems to notice in the crowd.

The Grammy awards certainly weren’t too suspicious, handing out the award for Best New Band to the group. I suppose by law of averages everyone wins  a Grammy every year. Astonishingly MV performed at the Grammy ceremony, no-one seemed to mind that they were miming – alot of pop bands did mime, but still considering the growing negative press – the actual  singers were starting to inevitably ask for credit – it is surprising. In Novemeber 1990, partly to shut everyone up,  Farian admitted the whole scam.

The Grammy’s were returned with Rob and Fab villified by just about everyone and the fact that their biggest hit was Girl You Know Its True proved a gift for comedians everywhere. The second album that was in the works was released credited to the actual singers under the name The Real Milli Vanilli. Rob and Fab recorded under the name Rob and Fab, somewhat unsuccessfully, tainted by the MV scandal.

Pilatus sunk into a spiral of depression, and after finishing a new album with Morvan and the original MV backing singers in an attempt to crawl back some fame, died of a drink-and-drug overdose in 1998. Morvan is still trying hard – he released new music last year, but its tough to imagine he will ever escape the shadow of Milli Vanilli.

Its tough now, to look back and not feel a little sorry for them, and how it turned out. It was a prospect that was never going to work, but it is unimaginable that someone wasn’t going to try it at some point, and it raises all sort of questions about music authenticity, pop star image, and the rest.   They are so associated with the scandal, that as a hilarious injoke when they had broke from Boyzone Keith Duffy and Shane Lynch (i.e the ones who stood at the back and didn’t really do any singing in Boyzone) did a cover of Girl You Knows Its True. The whole scandal irrevocably damaged pop music, undoubtedly, and is always cited by really boring people who like to tell you that pop music isn’t real as an argument for the authenticity of the alternative. In truth, its just a couple of kids who made a deal with the devil, and got a hell of alot more than they bargained  for. But they did get their place in history. What’s more rock n roll than that Faustian fable?

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