Milli Vanilli

Milli Vanilli

With their fresh look, which included a preppy mix of blazers, bike shorts, Doc Martens and dreadlocks, it’s easy to understand why Milli Vanilli caused a sensation during the dance-pop explosion of the 80s. They might have even been destined for greatness were it not for a little sound glitch from a concert that proved their monumental undoing. Seemingly overnight, their star rose to astounding heights, then fell just as swiftly.

Around the world, Milli Vanilli racked up hits upon hits, achieving an astounding amount of success that many had attributed to their extensive experience as back-up singers, and the magic that happened when they met each other at an L.A. dance club in the mid-80s, or was it Munich? The history seemed to change almost any time it was brought up, which provided a glaring clue as to what lay ahead. Together, theirs was the story that would change music history, putting a spotlight on artists and acts around the world to find out who they really were and more importantly, whether it was them singing and performing on the tracks at all.

Milli Vanilli was the brainchild of famed German music producer, Frank Farian, the genius behind the Euro-disco sounds of Boney M. Like he’d done before, he was interested in taking the latest trends and fusing them together. So, why not fuse the hot sounds of the dance music coming out of Europe with hip-hop and rap? He put together one of the hottest sounding acts of the time, sounding being the operative term.

The two middle-aged vocalists who recorded the tracks just didn’t look the part. Searching for a marketable image to complete his concept, he found it with two former break dancers / aspiring models, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan. Their exotic looks and nearly matching dreadlocks were just the thing, so Farian got them to come on board with the idea, and the rest, well ….

All or Nothing, their debut album, was released in Europe in 1988. American record companies, always looking for the next hot thing at home or abroad, caught wind of this catchy little album, and soon they were signed with Arista who reissued the album in the States as Girl You Know It’s True. With Pilatus’ and Morvan’s faces plastered on the front and their title track at #2 on the charts, success and attention were imminent.

Their next few singles, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” “Girl, I’m Gonna Miss You” and “Blame it on the Rain” all went straight to the top of the charts, and their single for the start of 1990, “All or Nothing” went into the Top 5. On February 22, 1990, Milli Vanilli took home the Grammy for Best New Artist. But, the ties had already begun to unravel months prior.

In a concert they performed in July of 1989, recorded for all posterity by MTV, they were singing the song “Girl You Know It’s True” when the music, and more importantly, the pre-recorded vocal tracks, started to skip. Now, it’s a well-known fact that many performers, particularly those with intense dance moves as a part of their stage act, do lip synch to previously recorded material. At the time, it wasn’t something everyone was aware of, yet the audience in attendance didn’t seem to care and continued to dance along.

But this little incident didn’t sit well with music critics who began to question the duo about their singing. In addition, comments had been made in the media by Pilatus, comparing Milli Vanilli to some of the greatest music legends of all time, putting themselves up there with the likes of Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney. The unwarranted bragging made the scandel all the more juicy. Soon, Morvan and Pilatus were begging Farian to let them sing on the next record. Instead of going along with their request, on November 12, 1990, Farian announced to the media that the two didn’t sing anything on the album. The backlash was immediate.

Within four days, their Grammy was stripped away. They were dropped by Arista, and worse, their album and masters were deleted from the catalogue entirely. Record stores weren’t allowed to return these now dead-weight copies, and used record stores refused to take them. The public felt misled and they weren’t in the mood for forgiveness.

Rob and Fab continued on, pursuing careers in entertainment, though they would never again find the success they’d longed for. After a few attempts flopped, it seemed as though there was no chance for recovery. Finally in 1997, Farian agreed to come back and produce a new album that would, for the first time, feature the duo actually singing.

The album was called Back and in Attack and, never released, it proved to be their last. While some loyal fans were hopeful for future redemption, it had become clear during production that Pilatus has fallen to his various addictions, turning to a life of crime and drugs and turning the recording process into a nightmare. By the spring of 1998, on the eve of their promotional tour, Rob Pilatus was found dead in his hotel room. He’d finally succumbed to the addiction that had haunted him for over a decade.

Fab Morvan found work as a DJ and studio musician, eventually releasing a solo album in 2003 called Love Revolution. It didn’t fare well on the pop charts, but at least he did all the singing. He continues to release music every few years, but the days of fame and glory appear to be over. Meanwhile, the overall legacy of Milli Vanilli appears to be that they taught an entire generation of music fans not to believe everything you hear.

Did you count yourself as one of Milli Vanilli’s fans? Were you hearbroken to hear the news of their demise? We’d love to hear all of your recollections of this infamous pop duo in our comments section below.

One Response to “Milli Vanilli”

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  1. Gina says:

    I thought people were too hard on them. To me, it doesn’t matter how music gets made. The final sound is all that matters.

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