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The most misunderstood people in pop #2: Milli Vanilli

Updated: Mar 26, 2019

Milli Vanilli, the most notorious example of lip synching ever, a salutary lesson in what happens when you lie to your fans as they never even sang on any of their records! When the lie was exposed, their fans never forgave them, their career was over, in disgrace they had to return their Grammy. Serves them right.

Oh poor poor Milli Vanilli. A tragic story with one very very real tragedy. Villians? Absolutely not. Milli Vanilli were victims of circumstance, of ambition, and of a cruel and unforgiving public.

The story of this duo contains three key people. Fab Morvan from Guadaloupe and Rob Pilatus and Frank Farian from Germany. Fab and Rob were Milli Vanilli, Frank was their producer and the mastermind behind the whole thing.

Frank Farian had tried to become famous in his own right under his own name but it never happened for him. However when he released a track under the made up name of Boney M in the mid 1970s, he had a hit. A hit for a band that didn’t exist. Not that that was anything to worry about, Frank hired performers to front the band while he carried on writing and producing the hits in the studio. And hits they had, oh yes. Boney M were a top international band in the late 70s and early 80s with hits like Daddy Cool, Ma Baker, Rasputin. So many hits. All perfect disco classics.

However by the mid-80s things were running out of steam for Boney M and the hits dried up. But a natural hit maker like Farian was far from done and in time he would be ready to mastermind another international hit band.

Enter Rob and Fab. A couple of good looking guys from the Munich club scene, like many others then and now, the two friends wanted to be famous. Really wanted it. Fame isn’t easily attained and you don’t get it unless you really really want it. Rob and Fab absolutely did.

Frank had already recorded a new song he’d written called Girl You Know It’s True. He met Rob and Fab soon afterwards and knew right away he had the perfect front men for his new band. He secured a record deal and off they went. “Girl You Know It’s True” became a hit pretty much everywhere - the version Frank had recorded before he even met Rob and Fab, without any of their singing at all and the path of their future fall from grace was set.

Rob and Fab always maintained that they wanted to sing on their records and continually pushed Frank to let them do it. They said he promised them that in due course he would let them do so but Frank stuck with the session musicians he’d been working with. However he never actually told the record company that Rob and Fab hadn’t done any of the singing. The only people who knew what was really happening were Rob, Fab, Frank and the session singers themselves. That was it.

So Rob and Fab, desperate to be famous, find themselves in the position where they have signed a record deal and are working with Frank Farian, a proven international hit maker. Their band is about to release this song which everyone is telling them is going to be a hit, and they have no doubt in their mind that Frank will let them sing in future. This is very likely their best and only shot at fame and they’ll be singing on future records.

We all know how this story ends, but at that point in time, nobody did, least of all Rob and Fab. You can think of them as being naive, reckless, greedy whatever, but who in their position at that time would have turned away and walked out? Not least as the guy behind it all, Frank Farian, had previously had loads of hits with a band fronted by a guy who EVERYBODY KNEW didn’t sing a note.

Yes Frank himself sang all the male Boney M parts, not the guy who appeared on stage, Bobby Farrell, and nobody gave a damn. The hits kept coming, Bobby Farrell kept miming and dancing away and all was fine. Why would anybody think this time would be any different? Frank Farian obviously didn’t or he wouldn’t have done it, so wouldn’t you have gone along with it too? At least for a while, which is what Rob and Fab told themselves. This was just for now while things get started.

But of course this time it was very different. Lots of people did give a damn, Milli Vanilli were disgraced, nobody wanted to hear them sing or their music and to this day they remain a cultural reference point for inauthenticity and musical scandal. The pressure of living with that was so great that Rob struggled with suicide attempts and addiction for years afterwards. Tragically in 1998, when he was just 32, Rob was found dead from a suspected overdose.

So even if you still want to hate on Milli Vanilli for not actually singing on their records, give them a break. They only wanted to be famous. They never hurt anyone and they’ve suffered enough.

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