All or Nothing?

col_milli_sm.jpgJust because the two faces of Milli Vanilli never spent a day laying down tracks in the recording studio doesn’t make the Milli Vanilli sound any less pleasing. 








The other day I found myself preparing to tackle one of my least favorite household chores:  cleaning the bathroom.  Now, like most people, I only do this because it’s absolutely necessary, not because I’m secretly in love with the overpowering scent of Comet.  So to get myself in the proper mood, I always listen to music while I work, everything from 1980s “hair bands” to ’70s disco divas, from the Best of George Michael to the soulful sounds of the Spinners, whatever strikes my fancy and carries me away until the scrubbing and cleaning are done.

While searching through my CD collection, I happened to come across an old favorite, one I hadn’t listened to in a very long time.  I couldn’t help but grin as my mind flashed back to 1989, when polka dots were ubiquitous, Hypercolor T-shirts were in vogue, Aquanet Hairspray proved the sky truly is the limit, and a German duo named Milli Vanilli came out of nowhere to rule the pop music charts.  I quickly opened my Milli Vanilli CD, inserted it in the stereo, and listened with delight to the first few chords of the title track, “Girl You Know It’s True.”  Just like that, I was in the cleaning mood!

Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, better known as Milli Vanilli, took the world by storm between 1989 and 1990 with their exotic good looks, stylish videos, and charismatic performances.  Together the duo sold over 14 million albums and more than 30 million singles, and they also won three American Music Awards and a Grammy.  With five top 10 singles (“Blame it on the Rain,” “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” “All or Nothing,” and “Girl You Know It’s True”) and an incredible fan base around the world, it appeared nothing could go wrong for Milli Vanilli.  But then, like an amazing shooting star destined to flame out, eventually something did.   




The blow up was sparked by an incident at a Milli Vanilli concert in July 1989.  As the duo performed the song “Girl You Know It’s True,” a few music critics in the audience noticed the words from the singers’ mouths didn’t match the music they were hearing.  At one point, the same line (“Girl, you know it’s –”) began repeating over and over again.  Later, it was revealed that Milli Vanilli hadn’t really been singing live at all; instead, the group had been lip synching, when a mechanical glitch caused the recording to accidentally skip. 

Afterwards, critics and fans began questioning the authenticity of Milli Vanilli’s talent, wondering whether Morvan and Pilatus had in fact sung any of their chart-topping records.  At first the duo and their producer, Frank Farian, denied any foul play.  But after continued widespread public speculation, Farian finally admitted that none of the vocals on the Milli Vanilli tracks belonged to Morvan and Pilatus.  Instead, Farian had hired three studio singers to provide the voices, while Morvan and Pilatus had supplied the pretty public faces for the creation of Milli Vanilli. 

The revelation of Milli Vanilli’s lip synching scandal rocked the music industry to its core in the fall of 1990.  As a result of the fallout, on November 16th the group was stripped of its Grammy for Best New Artist.  Many Milli Vanilli fans were so outraged by the ruse that they accused the group of fraud and demanded refunds for the albums, tapes, CDs and concert tickets that they had purchased.   

Call me crazy, but I never quite understood the intense public backlash against Milli Vanilli.  Sure, I get that people were disappointed.  I get that they felt they had been misled.  But, frankly, when it comes down to it, isn’t it about the music?  Isn’t the music all that matters, whether it’s good or bad?  And truth be told, Milli Vanilli’s music was considered good by music lovers worldwide. 

Another truth is Milli Vanilli’s success was never based on their vocal talent alone.  In fact the group received little, if any, critical praise for its singing.  What Milli Vanilli did possess in abundance, however, was a catchy sound and hot look that young MTV viewers, like my 13-year-old self at the time, were crazy for.  It was Milli Vanilli’s total packaging, a combination of good dance music plus the undeniable sex appeal of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, which made the group so popular.   Fans were intrigued by Morvan’s and Pilatus’s long braids and running man dance, which was new and different and fun.  Without the duo’s spectacular visual image, would Milli Vanilli’s music have still been a hit?  Would Milli Vanilli have enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom based on vocal styling alone?  Honestly, I don’t think so.

Just because the two faces of Milli Vanilli never spent a day laying down tracks in the recording studio doesn’t make the Milli Vanilli sound any less pleasing.  “Blame It On the Rain,” “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” and other songs were cool to me back in 1989, when I had no clue that the performances were a front.  Those songs still sounded fantastic to me in 1990, after the group’s sudden fall from grace.  And now, almost 20 years later, despite knowing the truth behind the Milli Vanilli story, I’m quite proud to say that Milli Vanilli’s music still makes me want to dance and smile as much as ever before.  The way I see it, it’s all or nothing.  And for all of the group’s ups and downs, I’d rather have everything that came with the Milli Vanilli package rather than never having had Milli Vanilli at all. | Retannical D. Russell

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