We’ve all seen those funny moments on TV or online when a performer messes up a lyric or misses a beat. Sometimes they’re lip-syncing: playing along to a pre-recorded backing track. Could one of those moments ruin a group’s career?
In the late 1980s, R&B duo Milli Vanilli rose to stardom, producing many best-selling singles and winning Grammy awards. Paramount Network’s new documentary analyzes the story of how two European dancers, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice “Fab” Morvan, became the world’s largest stars — and one of music’s biggest controversies.
Enter Frank Farian. The German record producer had success in the ‘70s and early ‘80s with Caribe-Europop group Boney M, whom you may recognize behind the hits “Rivers of Babylon” and “Rasputin.” However, once the disco age was finished, Farian set his sights on Pilatus and Morvan to bring his next idea to life. The two men came from impoverished home lives in France and Germany and didn’t speak much English but wanted to make it big.
Farian took the two under his wing and started producing hit after hit, booking late night talk show appearances and selling out concerts worldwide. Pilatus and Morvan were starstruck by their sudden fame, but behind the scenes there was a much darker tale. As the story goes, Farian tricked the two into lip-syncing anonymous session players as soon as they signed the first contract. Pilatus and Morvan wanted to sing but were trapped due to a cash advance they accepted from Farian’s record company. They got to be famous, but they weren’t the ones on their records, including mega-songs like “Girl You Know It’s True,” “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” and “All or Nothing.”
The public was none the wiser until a 1990 concert at Connecticut’s own Lake Compounce Concert Park in Bristol when the scheme was revealed on live television. It shattered their image and led to a massive backlash from fans and the music industry. The Grammy Award they had won for Best New Artist was revoked, and they became the poster children for lip-syncing and inauthenticity in the public eye.
The documentary paints the story through interviews with Morvan, now an accomplished solo artist, and other key players in the story like Farian’s girlfriend Ingrid “Milli” Segieth. Farian himself declined to be a part of the film, providing no comment on the storied situation. The film presents an interesting question for the viewer to decide: Was the duo tricked into lip-syncing or were they in on the deal?
Throughout the ‘90s, Milli Vanilli’s career plummeted. Tragically, Pilatus faced personal issues and legal troubles, ultimately passing away in 1998. The session musicians who actually lent their talents to Milli Vanilli’s mega-hits continue to tour as “The Real Milli Vanilli,” even making appearances in New England over the last couple of years. All of the hits which sky-rocketed the group to stardom are even available on paid music streaming services as well as on adult contemporary radio stations.
For those looking to learn about the inner workings of the scandal or are just interested in a good story, this feature-length documentary is a good watch. Produced by Paramount Network, you can watch “Milli Vanilli” as a special on CBS (local WFSB channel 3 – Huskyvision channel 3) or on-demand with a Paramount Plus subscription.
Rating: 4/5 “Girl You Know It’s True” CDs