Happy (or not-so-happy) 30th Anniversary to Milli Vanilli’s US debut album Girl You Know It’s True, originally released March 7, 1989.
Let’s begin with a few hypothetical questions for you, the reader. If you were handed the opportunity of a lifetime to become a global music superstar, replete with wealth, fame, awards and millions of adoring fans, would you do it? I suspect many of us would likely answer this one in the affirmative.
Now, what if the same opportunity was offered to you, but you knew going into it that in order to take advantage and reap all of the benefits, you would need to deceive those millions of adoring fans? You would be required to commit mass manipulation that would ultimately result in your superstardom lasting only a few short years before you became the laughing stock of the entire music industry? Would you still do it?
Back in 1988, two young gentlemen named Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan—under the guidance of the German producer and Boney M. mastermind Frank Farian—defied common sense and seized the chance outlined above. Of course, at the time, the German-born Pilatus, the French-born Morvan and Farian may have known exactly what they were getting themselves into, but they likely assumed (or prayed) that their not-so-little ruse would never be exposed and success would be theirs for the taking.
Cooler heads not prevailing, Rob and Fab were rebranded as Milli Vanilli and promoted as the more camera-friendly public faces representing the songs produced by Farian and secretly sung by the anonymous studio session trio of John Davis, Brad Howell and Charles Shaw. While the group’s debut album All or Nothing was released exclusively in Europe in November 1988, it wasn’t until the rejiggered US version of the album named after their first single “Girl You Know It’s True” was unleashed that Milli Vanilli’s public profile began to soar in substantial ways. Propelled by a string of chart-burning singles, Girl You Know It’s True proceeded to sell in excess of 6 million copies within less than a year following its arrival and Milli Vanilli took home the Best New Artist award at the 32nd Annual GRAMMY ceremony in February 1990. Rob, Fab and Frank were riding high.
And then just like that, they weren’t. As soon as the music industry gods gaveth, it tooketh away, as the floodgates of the Milli Vanilli lip-syncing scandal broke wide open following Los Angeles Times music critic Chuck Phillips’ November 1990 article entitled “It’s True: Milli Vanilli Didn’t Sing.” “I feel like a mosquito being squeezed,” Pilatus confided to Phillips. “The last two years of our lives have been a total nightmare. We've had to lie to everybody. We are true singers, but that maniac Frank Farian would never allow us to express ourselves."
And the rest is pop music history, as they say. So as we reflect upon the 30th anniversary of the much-maligned and long-out-of-print long player Girl You Know It’s True, we’re revisiting some trivia tidbits that you may have never been aware of or have intentionally cleansed from your memory, for good reason.
10 Fast Facts about Milli Vanilli and Girl You Know It’s True:
(1) Girl You Know It’s True captured the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart on September 23, 1989 and spent a total of seven weeks, non-consecutively, at the top of the chart.
(2) The album’s title track was not written for Milli Vanilli. Instead, it was originally composed by members of Numarx, a Baltimore based DJ collective who first recorded the song in 1987.
(3) Five official singles were released from the album and all five peaked at the #5 spot or above in the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including “Girl You Know It’s True” (#2), “Baby Don’t Forget My Number” (#1), “Blame It On the Rain” (#1), “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” (#1), and “All of Nothing” (#4).
(4) As of today, the Discogs marketplace lists 177 used copies of Girl You Know It’s True for sale, with a wide range of prices from $0.50 to $93. Time to free up some cash, folks.
(5) Though definitely not the only act to ever lip-sync during their live gigs, not by far, Milli Vanilli were one of the few artists whose miming was publicly exposed after their backing track malfunctioned during a July 1989 performance as part of the Club MTV Tour. Ashlee Simpson can surely relate.
(6) Rob and Fab were forced to return their GRAMMY Award for Best New Artist, the only time such a revocation has happened in the event’s 61-year history. The duo was able, however, to keep their three American Music Awards.
(7) Nearly a year after the scandal was made public, a class-action settlement concluded that approximately 10 million consumers who bought Milli Vanilli recordings and/or concert tickets were eligible for a refund on their purchases.
(8) Don’t call it a comeback, but Rob and Fab released their eponymous album Rob & Fab in 1993. To no one’s surprise, the market for the duo’s original music proved non-existent and the album only mustered a few thousand copies sold. But don’t worry, if you’re suddenly inspired to add a copy to your collection upon reading this, the CD can be had for a cool $75 via Discogs.
(9) The premiere episode of VH1’s popular Behind the Music series featured Milli Vanilli’s story—a logical choice for a ratings boost right out of the gate.
(10) Whatever happened to Rob and Fab? Sadly, Rob passed away in 1998 at the age of 32 as the result of an alcohol and prescription medication overdose. Fab has continued recording music sporadically, releasing his debut (and only) solo album Love Revolution in 2003. He has released a handful of singles over the past ten years, but his rumored sophomore LP has yet to emerge.