Few incidents have rocked the music industry like the Milli Vanilli scandal of the 90’s. At the height of their fame, Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus were outed by producer Frank Farian as having lip-synched their way through their hit record and performances. The fallout was huge. Milli Vanilli was stripped of their Grammy for Best New Artist and Arista Records erased their album from its catalog. It was a media circus of astronomical proportions and I was a mildly befuddled spectator, watching from the sidelines. Milli Vanilli’s unmasking yielded lasting personal and financial consequences for the young performers. With time comes perspective and now is a good time to examine this incident with a fresh set of eyes.
Summer of ’89:”Girl You Know It’s True” was burning up the charts and dominating airwaves. However, it was the visual impact of Milli Vanilli’s videos that helped to launch them into the stratosphere. Two extraordinarily handsome, Black men with exotic braids, lithe bodies and chic esthetic danced their way into millions of hearts. I was smitten; Rob and Fab were the epitome of cool. How could I ever forget Rob’s number after being transfixed by those eyes?! It was too much!!! I even went so far as to paint their likenesses with oil pastels on a t-shirt, which I proudly sported. Though there was an odd moment when I thought with a child’s wisdom that Fab’s looks didn’t seem to match his voice, I quickly dismissed that as my imagination. Even the album cover was pretty dope. Milli Vanilli was the new flavour in town and an adoring public couldn’t get enough.
Everyone knows what came afterwards. On the heels of scathing scorn and humiliation, the German-based duo attempted a comeback by singing during live performances. Under new management, they moved to Los Angeles and released an album entitled “Rob and Fab” that did poorly but is collector’s gold today. It seems the wounded ego of the music industry stifled any and all attempts at redemption from Milli Vanilli. The fall from grace was too overwhelming for Robert Pilatus, who sadly succumbed to a drug and alchohol overdose in 1998. The “Back and In Attack” record scheduled for release was shelved, ending the Milli Vanilli era for good. Fabrice soldiers on as a DJ and independent musician, having found the strength to move forward with his life.
Mass deception aside, the memory of Milli Vanilli lingers on like a stubborn aftertaste. Their songs still get airplay and you know what? The music is great! Iconic basslines don’t lie. “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” is one of the best music videos of all time. Rob and Fab had looks, presence, style AND moves. I still enjoy their performances immensely. Those guys had something, a spark that’s missing from a lot of performers these days. They captured the essence of their time and they delivered. Sure they lip-synched their way to the top but now that’s standard practice for ye average pop-star. Watching Milli Vanilli now makes me realize that perhaps they were judged too harshly for their actions. They brought joy and entertainment to millions so they’re not such bad guys, right?
Behind the rise and fall of every empire is a story. Milli Vanilli is a tale of 2 Black youth from Europe lusting after stardom. Enter Frank Farian, a German producer with a shady history of fronting Black music shell acts like 70’s phenomenon Boney M (who didn’t sing most of their songs). The trio forge a Faustian pact that brings Rob and Fab success but at what a cost! The dance-pop duo claimed they were exploited by Farian, yet they decided to go along with the charade from the start. If anything, theirs is a cautionary fable of the pitfalls awaiting those who seek a fast-track to fame. And yet, underneath it all, is heartbreak and resilience. A meteoric rise from poverty and shattered childhood to worldwide acceptance and back again. This is the real story that needs to be told. Fabrice opens up in this interview with VLADTV accessible via http://www.fabmorvan.com – a must-see! In this era of docudramas, the time is right for us to know more about Rob and Fab. No disrespect to Charles Shaw and the original vocalists, but these 2 will forever remain Milli Vanilli.
R.I.P. Rob, you are sorely missed!
Props to Fab for surviving it all
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