Taking the blame for Milli Vanilli

February 20, 2011

The closing stages of the 1980′s were famous for the tearing down of The Berlin Wall and Milli Vanilli. That they were both created in Germany is the only similarity that they share. In the 21 years which have passed since the un-masking of the damned, many things have been written, many irrelevant top 100 television countdown  shows about the 1990′s where celebrities who have fallen out of flavour give their inane comments, have been aired; there is even a film in the works about their brazen lies (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0965381/). There has not, however, been an admittance of blame.  We are hereby taking the blame for Milli Vanilli, or rather, the fact that they existed for so long (not the end of Cold War segregation in Deutschland, in case you were wondering.)

Formed in Germany in 1988 by Frank Farian, the original lineup of Milli Vanilli featured a group of, what, at the time, were considered highly capable singers. Unfortunately, image and MTV were beginning to dictate what was  what was audibly, visually, and financially viable in music. For the original lineup of Milli Vanilli – who were deemed to have hit the ugly tree one too many times during their descent to Terra Firma – this meant replacement. This came in the form of the more visually appealing Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus. They had long hair, nice abs and couldn’t sing a note. Which was fine, at least at the beginning.

For those who don’t know the story of Milli Vanilli – undoubtedly because you are too young – basically they pretended to sing a bunch of songs, palming themselves off as, well,  singers, all the while lip-syncing to a backing track, incidentally performed by the same poor souls with radio faces who had initially made up the band. In the age of Xfactor et al. miming is not seen as such a crime, that they got away with it for so long is a crying advert for musical ineptitude and why we are here.

In the two years that they were pulling the wool over unsuspecting eyes they won a truck-load of awards. During the 1989 American Music Awards they won best new artist in both the pop/rock and the soul/rhythm and blues categories and best song for Girl You Know its True. They won best Internationalal artist at the Juno Awards a year later and went on to win a Grammy award for best new artist that same year.

The Grammy award in 1990 is of particular interest, not only because of its calibre (Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, John Williams, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Leonard Bernstein and Quincy Jones have all won one), but also due to what happened a year earlier during a live performance for MTV at Lake Compounce Theme Park. As the ‘group’ ‘performed’ (and by performed, we mean lip-synced) their biggest hit, Girl You Know its True, the backing track got caught and continually skipped over the main line of the song. In a brazen attempt to conceal their embarrassment, they continued as if nothing had happened. The crowd went wild. Eventually the skipping CD got they better of them and they ran of stage in a Benny Hill fashion. Nobody battered an eye-lid. Not a word, not a comment, not a murmur, not a peep. What on Earth did they think they had been watching? A year later they won a grammy.

That so many people, including the highest echelons of the music industry, couldn’t recognise that what they were watching wasn’t real is tantamount to treason. We take the blame for Milli Vanilli and for all of the ineptitude that let them mascarade around at the same time real things of importance were happening.

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