What Happened To Milli Vanilli? The Lip-Syncing Scandal

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Photo of MILLI VANILLI and Rob PILATUS and Fab MORVAN
GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 01: Photo of MILLI VANILLI and Rob PILATUS and Fab MORVAN; Group portrait of Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan on tv show (Photo by Bernd Muller/Redferns)

Milli Vanilla's rise and fall from stardom will likely never be replicated again, a story set to have a documentary coming to Paramount+.

Milli Vanilli is set to have a documentary airing at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 10. Chronicling the rise and fall of the duo, the story of coming to Paramount+. In an official statement, surviving member Fab Morvan stated, “Finally – the true story of Milli Vanilli has been told! I’m thankful Luke Korem and his team went to the lengths that they did. The journey I returned to during the filming of this documentary didn’t leave any stone unturned. At last, I can close this chapter in peace. … Get ready to take a walk in our steel-toe boots.” Milli Vanilli getting a documentary is long overdue, with their story remaining a defining moment in hip-hop folklore.

Milli Vanilli's MTV Performance Exposed Them

Portraits, London, 27 September 1988, L-R Rob Pilatus, Fab Morvan. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

The rise and fall of Milli Vanilli is something that will likely never be replicated in music again. Less than a year after the German-French R&B-Pop duo brandished their Grammy Award, they had to return their trophy for Best New Artist. They were the first artists ever to have to return a Grammy Award. The reason? Lip-syncing.

After selling millions of records, it was discovered that the duo hadn't sung a note on any of their songs. While their plastic image was concretely discovered after a disastrous MTV performance in 1989, fans had suspected something was amiss for years prior. From occasional issues with the sound production to singer Charles Shaw stating he was one of the band's background singers, it was only a matter of time before their notoriety fell apart.

In essence, while lacking talent, their prevalence would speak volumes to the power of imagery within the music industry. Even if they completely lacked musical talent, the two had the artificial image of superstars. Compiled with an attractive stage image and a European aura to their style, Milli Vanilli took over the US charts. All Or Nothing ran up the charts, with "Girl You Know It's True" being the project's defining hit.

Pilatus told the Los Angeles Times in 1990, “I know it’s going to be hard for the kids to stand behind us. But I hope they understand that we are just two human guys who were so hungry for success that we allowed ourselves to be manipulated. We wanted to get on the top. We apologize and hope they’ll give us a second chance.”

Rob Pilatus Never Recovered From The Fallout

Unfortunately, Pilatus wouldn't even give himself a second chance. The embarrassing public fallout was more than the temporarily humiliating occurrence that it could've been. While the group could have moved on and attempted to repair their public image, the situation broke Pilatus. As Morvan put it, “Rob didn’t have the strength to start over." He fell into a lifelong battle with substance abuse, falling in and out of rehab. Back in 1991, he had to be talked off of a balcony by police. Pilatus eventually succumbed to its ills due to an alcohol and drug overdose at the age of 33. At the time, the duo had reportedly been recording a new album.

In retrospect, Rob's more profound struggles with the fallout in comparison to Fab make sense. Fab was always the melodramatic personality of the group, lurking further back in the shadows compared to Rob. There was a consistent tone in the duo's run of interviews, with Rob being the outspoken extrovert while Rob subtly nodded in the background. Therefore, the fallout of Milli Vanilli had the public's outrage more-so directed at Rob than Fab. A fabricator tag would live with them for the rest of their lives, and the group's headliner could never emotionally handle that.

The Duo Fell Into Obscurity

Das ehemalige Popduo Milli Vanilli posiert für die Kamera. Die Popsänger Robert Pilatus (l) und Fabrice Morvan (r) waren Anfang der 90-er Jahre in die Schlagzeilen geraten, weil sie auf ihrem Erstlingsalbum Girl You Know Its True nicht selbst gesungen hatten (undatierte Aufnahme). (Photo by KPA/United Archives/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Whether to take the side of sympathy or disdain regarding Fab and Rob is confusing. Manager Frank Farian discovered the duo. At the time, the two were poor aspiring artists in the Berlin area. Apparently, Farian promised the two that they could use their own voices on future albums and tours as long as they lip-synced for the time being. However, this claim from the duo is controversial at best. After the band's fallout, Farian was still looking to revive the image of Milli Vanilli alongside the members of the real vocalists from before. Rob and Fab were impassively discarded after the many lawsuits aimed at their record label, Arista.

On the drawing board of strategies for Rob and Fab, the idea that stuck surrounded self-parody. The two starred in a sugarless gum commercial in which they comedically lip-synced to an opera song. While the two attempted to leverage this appearance into a career in the film industry, they wouldn't get very far. Navigating back into the world of music, they released the self-titled Rob & Fab in 1993. Unfortunately, nobody cared anymore. The record sold merely 2,000 copies in the US, essentially signing the death warrant of the duo's star image.

Fading Into Music History

While Rob Pilatus never found success again, Morvan used the ills he experienced as a motivation to improve his creative skills. After Rob's death, Fab became a public speaker, musician, and radio DJ. Of course, his preemptive career would never come close to the heights of Milli Vanilli. However, he discovered his voice with the release of the 2003 album Love Revolution. Featuring touching tributes to Rob and a reflection on the Milli Vanilli outrage, he was able to redeem himself as an authentic musician. Hopefully, Fab's redemption will be covered in the documentary surrounding Milli Vanilli.

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