Streaming Spotlight by Cindy Summers
Milli Vanilli – Paramount+
In the late 1980s, Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Movan of Milli Vanilli exploded into the pop music scene with an album that sold over 8 million records, was number one on charts worldwide, won three American Music Awards and a Grammy. Rob and Fab were megastars living the high life, though that success would be short lived when it was discovered the neither of them actually sang on the record. The truth was that other recording artists had performed on the original, and that Rob and Fab were just dancers that had lip-synced through every moment of the music career.
Fabrice grew up in Paris. When he was 18 he moved to Munich, Germany, ran out of money and became homeless. He was able to get some jobs teaching dancing, which was what he studied in Paris and Rob was a local break-dancer. Rob was 20 and the two were the only blacks in the popular Germany dance scene. Rob and Fabrice met in 1986 at a party, moved in together and started throwing large parties, eventually doing shows in a local club singing and dancing. They got their first break in Munich as backup dancers on a popular TV music show.
They also began modeling and set themselves apart by creating their signature dreads looks. It was then that Rob connected them with Frank Farain, producer of another well-known group at the time Boney-M. Frank’s assistant Ingrid Segieth said they had a project that they thought Rob and Fabrice would be good for if they were interested. With an offer of 1500 Deutsch Marks advance each, Rob and Fabrice excitedly signed the contract with little review of the details.
Several months went by and finally Ingrid called asking them to come to the studio. After playing the music from “Girl You Know It’s True” Frank explained he did not want Rob and Fab to sing on the record, only to dance and be lip-syncing performers. Rob and Fab decided that they would just do this one song and get out. Frank solicited the singing talent of several other artists: popular American singer Brad Howell as lead singer, lead rapper Charles Shaw was given $12K to agree to the project and keep quiet about the details, and backup singers twins Linda and Jodie Rocco.
Frank released “Girl You Know It’s True”, which quickly reached number one on the German Billboard charts, did great in Europe, and then exploded in the US reaching number two on the US charts and was a top five hit in 23 countries around the world. After the US success, Rob and Fab signed with Arista Records and president Clive Davis hired songwriter Diane Warren, who wrote “Blame It On the Rain”. Arista released the album and it went 6x Platinum selling 8 million albums with three number one hits singles, winning three American Music Awards and a Grammy.
Stardom made Rob and Fab crazy and they threatened Frank, saying that if he didn’t pay them $150K they would reveal the truth. Frank decided to take control by holding a press conference in NY and revealed to the Associated Press that Rob and Fab were not the singers on the album. In worldwide news Milli Vanilli became known as “Phony Bologna” and they were required to return their Grammy. Frank had little fallout from his admission and Clive lied about knowing the truth, letting Fab and Rob take the full fall, with Rob falling the hardest.
Rob was arrested numerous times for drugs and related crimes, and unsuccessfully tried rehab. He went to a rehab in Germany and felt after three months he had conquered his addictions and upon leaving went to visit Ingrid. Rob was found dead the next morning by Ingrid in a Frankfurt hotel room having consumed alcohol and pills. Fab was devastated but recovered and found love, got married, had several children and continues performing live singing the music of Milli Vanilli.
Runtime: 1h 46m