Remember when people flipped out because the two guys in Milli Vanilli didn’t actually sing anything on their Grammy winning debut album? Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were exiled from the music industry and gave back their awards and fans were shocked—SHOCKED!!—that such a thing happened without one of the biggest bands in the world getting found out sooner.
But now we live in the age of Autotune and prerecorded performances and does it all matter anymore?
November 27 was the 25th anniversary of Milli Vanilli’s fall from grace. The two men in the group swore they’d been set up by their producer, Frank Farian, who “recruited them for their looks and presented them with a catchy demo track that they, despite his promises, were never given a chance to rerecord,” according to a new article on the scandal by Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic. The track, “Girl You Know It’s True,” of course was a smash it and brought Rob and Fab (even their names sounded fake, c’mon now) attention and fame and fortune until, well, it didn’t. And when Charles Shaw popped up and said he was the voice on the song, shortly after that infamous performance where the tape started skipping, everything was over.
There were lawsuits and sobbing fans. When a nine-year-old tells the LA Times you’re “dirty scumbuckets,” that’s a new level of low. Neither Rob nor Fab ever performed in public again, the story goes, and Rob died of an overdose in 1998.
But have things really changed that much? And have things changed for the better? Kornhaber says no, it’s only gotten worse. Pointing to the new book The Song Machine by John Seabrook, the music industry now is filled with fakery that “isn’t hidden from listeners but is also not fully understood by them. “The system in part has its roots in the work of Lou Pearlman, the now-incarcerated entrepreneur who assembled the Backstreet Boys after witnessing the backlashes to Milli Vanilli and New Kids on the Block—backlashes that were both rooted in the idea that talentless people were lying about being talented.”
Read more about the weird and ever evolving world of artists who aren’t all they sound to be here.