Milli Vanilli and the aftermath

Okay, so Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan were just lip-synching the whole time, and they couldn’t sing for crap, and the whole put-on was a horrible scandal which embarrassed the music industry and irreparably damaged the credibility etc. etc. That much I can understand.

I got a question, though…what about the people who were singing? Why is it that, not only have they not gone on to successful music careers, they’ve seemingly vanished off the face of the earth? I can understand Rob and Fab being disgraced (although a bit unfairly, IMHO), but surely the people who were victimized by this scam shouldn’t have to suffer as well.

I mention this because I’ve recently been looking through the videos on again. Every time I watch these, I can see the perfect confluence of song and dance (which is pretty much what euro dance music is)…and can’t help but wonder why Milli Vanilli not only failed to do the same, it banished everyone into obscurity. The way I see it, the real scandal wasn’t that a couple guys lip-synched (many legit singers have done the same on numerous occasions), it was that someone decided not only that the actual singers (because they weren’t photogenic enough or some garbage) couldn’t be seen, they couldn’t be allowed to exist. A modern euro dance group would find this unthinkable, and no self-respecting singer would ever stand for it. When you see the video, everyone is there, “photogenic” or not. Yes, some of them are just pretty faces, and some of them are, well, just there for the video, but everyone’s part of the operation, and there’s no attempt to block anyone out just because he/she doesn’t look good.

Additionally, look at how most people’s reaction to the scam (without really analyzing why it happened) distorted the direction of the industry. Now it became ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE that the person on stage ACTUALLY DID THE SINGING. If they did, and they looked good in the process, it was an almost guaranteed hit…actual singing ability be damned. How else do you explain the popularity of, oh, Britney Spears (my English 100 teacher had a better singing voice)?

I just find it ironic that Rob and Fab could be so thoroughly roasted for not being able to sing, while the same fate hasn’t befallen any number of new artists who really aren’t that much better.

[Footnote: I realize I’ve probably made a gazillion errors in this post. Apologies to anyone who’s offended by this.]

First, I want to state that this is, hands-down, the funniest thread title I have ever encountered.

Anyway, I’m not sure I have any definite answers, but I think there is definitely a pre- and post-Milli Vanilli chasm. I remember watching Madonna and Janet Jackson and Tiffany and New Kids on the Block doing their thing on stage, and they rarely sang. They concentrated on the spectacle (in Tiffany’s case, as much spectacle as you can produce in a mall) - the dancing, lights, cool outfits, and whatnot. I’m sure they didn’t necessarily gain respect from hard-core music fans for this, but it wasn’t a big deal. I remember seeing American Bandstand when I was a kid, and everyone on that show (if I recall correctly) lip-synched too. I don’t think anyone made a huge deal out of it.

But nowadays, there is a huge line drawn between someone like Nelly Furtado, who most certainly sings live, and Britney, who most certainly does not. Nelly is a singer; Britney is an entertainer, and takes a lot more flak that Janet or Madonna ever did. Of course, I think it comes down to whether you want a striptease and an erotic python dance or live singing. Britney definitely lacks legitimacy for her lip-synching. But the thing is, her target audience was not even born when the Milli Vanilli tragedy occurred, so they probably don’t care all that much. And they’d much prefer the dancing and lights that live singing. When I was 10, I felt the same way.

-Sarah, who survived the Milli Vanilli aftermath and loved to tell the tale.

you know what always bothered me? why did they have their grammy’s taken away? I mean didn’t the grammy go to milli vanilli the group for the milli vanilli album? what does it have to do with their stage show or their videos? I mean I always thought the grammy was supposed to go to the band with the best MUSIC, not the band that is the most popular. I honestly don’t see why it matters that they were lip syncing. Milli Vanilli the group (which does not include rob and fab as members) still was hypothetically the best new group that year? At least if the people voting on grammy’s have any integrity at all in their musical choices…

<slight hijack>

Which of the Milli Vanilli duo was the one that killed himself?

</slight hijack>

Rob, I believe.

Yup. Oddly enough, sometime after they were exposed, but before Rob killed himself there was a game that had as one add-on module a scenerio where you had to talk Rob out of killing himself.

Yup, it was Rob. Apparently he had a lot of nasty issues going back to childhood: he was the product of a liason between a German stripper and a African-American GI, and never felt like he fit in among his family or other Germans or I-don’t-know. Milli Vanilli was just what made him snap, poor guy.

  • tsarina, who obviously watches Behind the Music.

To confirm my geekiness, “Blame It on the Rain” is one of my favorite songs.

The artists who sang on Rob and Fab’s first Milli Vanilli album created an album called The Moment of Truth. You can find it here. I find it interesting that the one of the genres that the album is categorized as is Comedy.

Back in those days, Munich was the center of Euro-pop, and they used to bring dozens of singers into studios to do variations of the same song, then mix voices/versions until they came up with the right formula.
If a song became a hit, they went out and found some pretty-looking or exotic-looking people and slapped their faces on an album cover and created the group.
After all the studio mixing, nobody every really knew who was singing by that point anyway. (as far as I know, not even the real singers recognized their voices anymore)
This happened a lot…I think the group Silver Connection with the hit Fly Robin Fly was another example.
No one ever found anything wrong with it…it was just pop music to dance to and the group was formed just to put a face to the hit(s).
I don’t know why Milli Vanilli got the brunt of the blame, but this happened a lot, and for all I know, still does.

One amusing result of the Milli Vanilli “scandal”:

Well, remember the furor after nude porno shots of Vanessa Williams surfaced? How she had to give up her Miss America crown. The following year, weeks before the pageant, Penthouse publisher claimed (probably falsely, in my opinion) that he possessed nude photos of something like ten of the contestants, and was all set to pusblish them as soon as one of them was announced as the winner.

As I said, I think Guccione was lying, merely to publicize himself and his magazine But the voters DEFINITELY believed him, because that year, they gave the award to Miss Utah, who hadn’t been given any chance of winning before Guccione’s statement. It was clear that the voters believed Guccione, and were terrified they’d pick a girl he had nekkid pictures of. So, they picked a seemingly wholesome Mormon girl, reasoning that she couldn’t POSSIBLY have done anything like that!

Well, the year after Milli Vanilli won the Best New Artist Grammy award, the nominees for Best New Artist were… 4 electro-disco-dance-pop groups and singer-pianist Marc “Walking in Memphis” Cohn.

Needless to say, Cohn won… and I have NO doubt whatsoever that the only reason he won is that Grammy voters were TERRIFIED that the disco groups would turn out to be as bogus as Milli Vanilli. Cohn wasn’t very exciting, but at least everyone knew he really sang and really played the piano!

Mind you, in the pre-MTV era, there were countless hit records made by sesssion musicians and hired studio singers. The Archies weren’t a real group, everyone knew it, and nobody cared. Many disco hits of the 70s were, likewise, written and arranged by professional composers and producers, then played by session men and sung by unknown studio singers. Nobody knew who most of those 70s disco bands were, and nobody cared.

But in the MTV era, it became important to have glamorous faces to go with the music. Rob and Fab were hired to LOOK cool, not to sing or to play music. As much as I disliked the music of Milli Vanilli, I think those two guys took a little too much heat. They weren’t singers, after all- just actors hired to PLAY singers on TV.

Girl, you know it’s true! Ooh, ooh ooh, I love you!

I think the point is that Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan did not sing on the album, not that they lip synced during their stage shows or music videos. Virtually all music videos are lip synced, and lip syncing is a long established (if rarely openly acknowledged) part of many performers’ stage shows, but attributing a studio vocal track to someone other than the real singer is a big no-no.

[“In Living Color”]

Remember, it takes TWO jerks to be Milli Vanilli!

[/“In Living Color”]

But that still doesn’t answer the question of why no one ever even tried to work out an arrangement where Rob and Fab could be used, but not made to be the actual singers.

Again, I point to A typical group contains two people who have any appreciable singing ability and a “DJ” who may or may not know what the hell he’s doing. Everyone else is eye candy. Most of them are professional dancers, but there are some who are pretty obviously just there for the videos.

Take a look at just about any rap video. It’s a production. With plenty of non-singers.

I mean, I could understand it if Milli Vanilli was just a Euro-pop phenomenon, but they went mainstream, and someone should’ve seen the danger of maintaining the deception. Right?

(And once again…what in blazes happened to the real singers? You’d think they’d get some positive press out of all this.)

I saw that “Behind the Music” show, and they made the point that none of it mattered until they won the Grammy - only then did people start asking questions. It seems to me that if this is a valid issue, then they should start disqualifying people during the nominations process. They didn’t actually break any rules or misrepresent themselves, did they? All they did was become popular, make money and get nominated. Seems to me the Grammy people changed the rules on Fab and Rob, who then, unfortunately, didn’t know how to respond (and whose manager bailed on them).

I think the flak that MV took was primarily for making the stodgy old Grammy folk look foolish, and for not admitting that they were synching. As others have pointed out, having others fill in for you is nothing new in the entertainment world (Hell, writers do it all the time), but when awards are won (and they usually aren’t because the type of work produced by such arrangements is usually fluff), you’d better fess up and not try to take credit.

As to why the real Rob and Fab didn’t sing afterwards, they did release one album (why they didn’t call themselves Realli Vanilli is one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time). From everything I’ve heard, they sucked.

You make a good point about the real singers though, they were after all good enough to win a Grammy. Don’t know why they never were heard from. Maybe they were laying low until the idea of even being associated with the whole fiasco didn’t mean professional death. By the time they were ready to make their stirring comeback, that type of music was passe and everyone was looking for the next Nirvana or Pearl Jam.