Milli Vanilli Member Fab Morvan Talks the Group’s Legacy, Lip-Synching and New Documentary
The pop duo Milli Vanilli, comprised of Rob Pilatus (left) and Fab Morvan are the subject of the documentary 'Milli Vanilli,' now streaming on Paramount+. Photo: Paul Cox/Paramount+
The name Milli Vanilli has become synonymous with lip-syncing. The European pop duo, comprised of Fab Morvan and the late Rob Pilatus (who died of an accidental overdose in 1998), skyrocketed to fame in 1989 with their instant hit, Girl You Know It’s True, which sold 30 million singles worldwide.
Licensed in the U.S. by BMG to Clive Davis’ Arista Records, their European debut album was rereleased in America under the title Girl You Know It’s True, containing the title track and follow-up singles Blame It On the Rain, I’m Gonna Miss You and Baby Don’t Forget My Number. It too exploded, selling six times platinum in the U.S. and earned the pair a Grammy Award for Best New Artist (later revoked).
The good-looking dancers with long braided hair even performed on the 1990 Juno Awards at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre (now Meridian Hall) and won International Album of the Year at the ceremony (also revoked). While in town, BMG Music Canada presented Fab and Rob with a diamond plaque for sales of one million copies.
The whole world thought Milli Vanilli was the real deal — except for the singers and musicians who played on the record, some industry execs and a whole lot of suspicious insiders picking up on the clues.
Of course, it all came crashing down when producer-writer Frank Farian, orchestrator of the fraud and lock-and-key secret — and worried Fab and Rob would beat him to it after battling him to be allowed to sing on the next album — came clean to reporters in late 1990. He finally admitted that the duo didn’t sing on the recordings and lip-synced their live performances. Suddenly, Fab and Rob were hated, ridiculed, ostracized.
Now, a new documentary, Milli Vanilli — directed by Luke Korem and streaming now on Paramount+ — tells the story of these two young aspiring dancers/singers, from their difficult upbringings to how Farian, the band’s founder and producer, misled them into participating in the hoax and then allegedly threatened to sue them for the money advanced if they didn’t play along. Through Korem’s film, we see how Fab and Rob started enjoying the fame and adulation and how, once that happened, it became impossible to tell the truth.
Fab Morvan recently spoke to Zoomer about Milli Vanilli, about creating new music and what he believes the group’s legacy stands for today.
KAREN BLISS: With the new documentary, how has it felt revisiting everything that went down?
FAB MORVAN: I’m enjoying it, because for a long time I believe that the fans were mad at us. But then, when I talked to people and when social media came on board, I realized that people were not mad. It was like, ‘I love your music. I didn’t know what happened to you’ … Well, you can be proud now to listen to Milli Vanilli because that music brought a lot of beautiful memories. Some human beings were created because of that music. It was love. Love. Music is love and positive vibrations.
And, finally, the documentary is out. My story, and the story of all the people involved in the story, is being told. So when you look at it, and people step back at the end of the piece, you say, ‘Now wait a second, I had no idea.’ And that’s what’s happening. And the people, like you, who watch the piece, now we have the conversation. It’s not a one-way conversation. Now it’s a two-way conversation. Nobody’s pointing a finger and making this the poster boys for liars … So it took 35 years for the story to be told properly.
KB: You were the scapegoat. If this happened today, there’s no tolerance in the music industry for the power imbalance and manipulation of young artists. What do you think would happen now?
FM: Well, the thing is, because of social media, because of pop music being packaged differently — and especially with lip-syncing becoming a norm and something that is now celebrated — the shows being created about lip-syncing [are] celebrated for doing a great job, I think I was at the beginning of a new era. That’s what happened. The young generation who watched the documentary in the screening room, they were like, ‘What did they do wrong? Why are you so mad?’
KB: It’s funny now that lip-syncing is an art form, from segments on The Tonight Show to drag shows.
FM: But nobody will ever get a Grammy for it again. So it puts me in history, one of the only Grammys to be given back. Listen, I don’t need the Grammy to make me feel relevant or make me feel like an artist. I’ve been doing my job. I’m on stage, I perform, I make people happy, and I do my job. I get better year after year. I’ve been doing this steady. I don’t do this [gestures with hand angled down], I do this [hand angles up].
People will see — because the proof is gonna be the pudding — once the new music is out and people can check me out on social media, see me perform, you can go to my Spotify account, Fab Morvan, I have a little bit of music there so you can get a taste for what he’s about. But I’m about to hit people with a lot of music. I waited because I wanted to work with professional entities. And now that the professional entities are knocking at my door, I’m like, ‘Okay, good. Very good.’
KB: And the documentary is part of that.
FM: The documentary is activating a wave of awareness. I’m riding that wave. Action equals reaction. The truth is being told. And, finally, people look at me in a different light. There’s a different perspective. And now people understand and actually see me as, I’m not the victim, but like, ‘Whoa, you were used.’
KB: You were definitely used. Would you have liked Frank Farian and anyone else involved in the hoax to have appeared in the documentary, take accountability, and say, ‘I’m sorry’ for how you were manipulated and thrown to the wolves?
FM: It would’ve been wonderful. For me. I would’ve said, ‘You know what, you guys are men.’ What’s the allegiance to? What kind of pact? What paper did you sign? Who are you protecting? It’s been 30 years. Milli Vanilli were so big that you were part of that team, but then, in the end, we asked you, ‘So tell us what happened?’ The interviewer, the director, producer [Luke Korem] did his job. Investigative journalism took place … But it’s great [the film] because you can see how the system works and how an artist is dropped into the machine, is used as much as possible.
KB: I don’t agree with some of the comments made at the end of the documentary that no one was hurt by the deception because you were hurt, your partner and best friend Rob lost his life, and the actual singer of the songs didn’t have the career he could have had. It hurt a lot of people.
FM: I’m so glad that now I have a family. I have four kids. You know, [as a kid] there was not much love at home, so we [me and Rob] went to look for love. That fame gave us that love we never received at home. It’s like, ‘Oh wow, we feel so good, but how can something feel so good when it’s so bad?’ And then you go into this schizophrenic back and forth and you don’t know what to do. You medicate yourself — boom. ‘Oh, let me calm down those emotions, now I can feel better’ or ‘I need some more.’
Then, I realize that’s not the thing to do because I’m gonna be ending up somewhere bad, somewhere I shouldn’t be. Rob didn’t understand the concept of that consequence to the actions we had taken. So uttering the lies all the time, which he was doing for me, because I couldn’t, I was too shy … Well, with the medication that he was taking, then he started to believe it. So, we embraced it together. Then I rejected the lie, and I knew that at some point that Milli Vanilli train was about to stop. And when it stopped, it would stop in the cul-de-sac and if you never had that safety belt on. And Rob didn’t have safety belt on, so he got ejected.
KB: It’s been 25-year since you lost Rob, but it must still feel like yesterday. I want to extend my condolences to you. Seeing all the old footage and clippings probably gives you a twinge of sadness.
FM: It’s bittersweet. But I’m here now and I’m gonna make sure that the name Milli Vanilli stands for when you stand, you stand back up, you reinvent and you move forward and love yourself.
Milli Vanilli is streaming now on Paramount+.