Milli Vanilli was a German R&B duo from Munich. The group was founded by Frank Farian in 1988 and consisted of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus. The group's debut album Girl You Know It's True achieved international success and earned them a Grammy Award for Best New Artist on 21 February 1990.
Milli Vanilli became one of the most popular pop acts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with millions of records sold. However, their success quickly turned to infamy when Morvan, Pilatus, and their agent Sergio Vendero confessed that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing any of the vocals heard on their music releases. Consequently, the duo was stripped of their Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The group recorded a comeback album in 1998, but Rob Pilatus died before it was released.
According to VH1's Behind the Music, the single "Girl You Know It's True" was first produced by Jesse Powell and had already been completed before Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were recruited. Frank Farian felt that no efforts should be made to refine Pilatus and Morvan's voices. Farian added his own studio-augmented voice to recordings, using back-up singers to hide the other two members' live voices.
In 2011 Morvan claimed that Farian manipulated the two of them by giving them a small advance when he signed them. The pair spent most of it on clothes and hairstyling. Several months later, Farian called them and told them they had to lip sync to some prerecorded music or, as stated in the contract, repay the advance in full. "We were not hired, we were trapped," Morvan recalled.
Lip-synching indications, exposure, and media backlash
Beth McCarthy-Miller, then an executive with MTV, says the duo's poor English language skills, when they came in for their first interview with the channel, stirred doubts among those present as to whether they had sung on their records. The first public sign that the group was lip-synching came on 21 July 1989, during a live performance on MTV at the Lake Compounce theme park in Bristol, Connecticut. As they performed, the recording of the song "Girl You Know It's True" jammed and began to skip, repeating the partial line "Girl, you know it's..." over and over through the speakers. They continued to pretend to sing and dance onstage for a few more moments, then they both ran offstage. According to the episode of VH1's Behind the Music which profiled Milli Vanilli, Downtown Julie Brown stated that fans attending the concert seemed neither to care, nor even to notice, and the concert continued as if nothing unusual had happened. In a March 1990 issue of Time magazine, Pilatus was quoted proclaiming himself to be "the new Elvis", reasoning that by the duo's success they were more talented musically than Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.
Unlike the international release of All or Nothing, the inserts for the American version of the album explicitly attributed the vocals to Morvan and Pilatus. This prompted singer Charles Shaw to reveal in December 1989 that he was one of the three actual singers on the album and that Pilatus and Morvan were impostors. Farian reportedly paid Shaw $150,000 to retract his statements, though this did not stem the tide of public criticism. Because of growing public questioning as to who sang in the group, as well as the Morvan and Pilatus' demand to Farian that they be allowed to sing on the next album, Farian confessed to reporters on 12 November 1990 that Morvan and Pilatus did not sing on the records. As a result of American media pressure, Milli Vanilli's Grammy was withdrawn four days later. However, their three American Music Awards were never withdrawn because the organizers felt the awards were given to them by music consumers.
After these details emerged, at least 27 different lawsuits were filed under various U.S. consumer fraud protection laws against Pilatus, Morvan and Arista Records. One such filing occurred on 22 November 1990, in Ohio, where lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit asking for refunds on behalf of a local woman in Cuyahoga County, who had bought Girl You Know It's True. At the time the lawsuit was filed, it was estimated at least 1,000 Ohio residents had bought the album. On 12 August 1991, a proposed settlement of a refund lawsuit in Chicago, Illinois, was rejected. This settlement would have refunded buyers of Milli Vanilli CDs, cassettes, records, or singles. However, the refunds would only be given as a credit for a future Arista release. On 28 August, a new settlement was approved; it refunded those who attended concerts along with those who bought Milli Vanilli recordings. An estimated 10 million buyers were eligible to claim a refund and they could keep the refunded recordings as well. The deadline to claim refunds passed on 8 March 1992.
The Real Milli Vanilli
The resulting album, released in Europe in early 1991, was renamed The Moment of Truth and spawned three singles, "Keep On Running", "Nice 'n Easy" and "Too Late (True Love)". A Morvan/Pilatus lookalike named Ray Horton was depicted on the cover along with the real singers: Brad Howell and John Davis. In addition, the album featured rappers Icy Bro on "Hard as Hell" and Tammy T on "Too Late (True Love)". Original members and vocalists Jodie Rocco and Linda Rocco remained on 95% of the tracks. One of four Diane Warren-penned songs that are included on The Moment of Truth, "When I Die", has been covered by several other artists, including Farian's No Mercy. For the American market, Farian chose to avoid any association with Milli Vanilli and had the tracks re-recorded with Ray Horton on the majority of lead vocals. However, The Moment of Truth was never released in that format in the USA.
Try 'N' B
In 1992, RCA signed on to release the album as the debut of the newly created group Try 'N' B. The self-titled release included three additional tracks not on the Real Milli Vanilli release: "Ding Dong", "Who Do You Love", and a remake of Dr. Hook's "Sexy Eyes", and featured original Milli Vanilli vocalists Jodie Rocco and Linda Rocco. Because of significantly better sales under the name Try 'N' B in America, a slightly modified Try 'N' B debut album was released internationally. It featured guest singer Tracy Ganser, a Ray Horton lookalike named Kevin Weatherspoon, as well as Jodie Rocco and Linda Rocco.
Rob & Fab
Meanwhile, Morvan and Pilatus moved to Los Angeles, California, and signed with the Joss Entertainment Group, where they recorded their follow-up album under the name Rob & Fab. Almost all the songs on the album were written by Kenny Taylor and Fab Morvan, while Morvan and Pilatus provided the lead vocals. Because of financial constraints, Joss Entertainment Group was only able to release the album in the United States, the priority market to Milli Vanilli. A single, "We Can Get It On", was made available for radio play shortly before the album's release. However, the lack of publicity, poor distribution, and their steep fall from the height of pop-culture visibility after the lip-synching scandal contributed to its failure. The album only sold around 2,000 copies.
Milli Vanilli comeback and death of Rob Pilatus
In order to restore their career, in 1997 Farian agreed to produce a new Milli Vanilli album with Morvan and Pilatus on lead vocals. This led up to the recording of the 1998 Milli Vanilli comeback album Back and In Attack. Even some of the original studio singers backed the performers in their attempt to bring back some of the fame that had been shed so quickly. However, Rob Pilatus encountered a number of personal problems during the production of the new album. He turned to drugs and crime, committing a series of assaults and robberies, and was ultimately sentenced to three months in jail and six months in a drug rehabilitation facility in California. Farian bailed Pilatus out of jail and paid for the rehab and plane tickets for him to fly back to Germany. On the eve of the new album's promotional tour on 2 April 1998, Pilatus was found dead of a suspected alcohol and prescription drug overdose in a Frankfurt, Germany hotel room. Pilatus' death was ruled accidental.According to one source, "In 1998, Rob Pilatus died of a drug overdose, which many suspect was a suicide."
The tour was cancelled and Back and In Attack remains unreleased. The recordings are assumed to have been destroyed.
Fab Morvan's solo career
Morvan spent the following years as a session musician and public speaker while working on his musical abilities. In 1998, he was a DJ at famed L.A. radio station KIIS-FM. During this period he also performed at the station's sold-out 1999 Wango Tango festival concert before 50,000 people at Dodger Stadium. Morvan then spent 2001 on tour before performing in 2002 as the inaugural performer at the brand-new Velvet Lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando, Florida. In 2003, Morvan released his first solo album, Love Revolution. He marketed the album through his website and CD Baby.
In April 2011, Morvan released the single "Anytime" on iTunes.
The duo was featured (and interviewed) for the premiere episode of VH1's Behind the Music in 1997.
In 2000, Fab Morvan was featured in a BBC documentary titled It Takes Two: The Story of the Pop Duo about musical duos.
On 14 February 2007, it was announced that Universal Pictures was developing a film based on the story of Milli Vanilli's rise and fall in the music industry. Jeff Nathanson, screenwriter for Catch Me If You Can, producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, and producer executive Adam Yoelin, were supposed to write and direct the film while Fab Morvan served as a consultant. However, in February 2011, it was announced the Milli Vanilli movie would be rewritten and directed by Florian Gallenberger.
In January 2014, the actual Milli Vanilli singers — Jodie and Linda Rocco, John Davis and Brad Howell — filmed an in-depth interview with the producers of Oprah: Where Are They Now for OWN TV. The show aired in the US on Friday, 21 February 2014.
In 2015 TMZ reported that Fab Morvan was working on an album with John Davis, one of the original Milli Vanilli singers, called Face Meets Voice.
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- MTV Artist Arena: Milli Vanilli
- Allmusic entry for Milli Vanilli
- Individual artists involved
- Fabrice Morvan's official website
- John Davis' official website
- The Real Milli Vanilli's official website
- Frank Farian's Website
- Breaking stories about Milli Vanilli's Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan by Chuck Philips archived at the LA Times