November 19, 1990: Milli Vanilli Stripped of Grammy!

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A Brief History

On November 19, 1990, the pop “singing” duo Milli Vanilli was stripped of the Grammy music award they had been given for “Best New Artist.”  After Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, who made up the duo, had met with success in Germany two years earlier, they managed to be successful internationally and in the U.S. as well with their debut album Girl You Know It’s True in 1990.

Digging Deeper

Their fame soon turned to notoriety when Chuck Phillips of the Los Angeles Times revealed that the vocals on the album were not actually sung by the duo.  As it turned out, the actual singers just did not have “the look,” so group founder and mastermind Frank Farian hired Pilatus and Morvan, both of whom were professional models and dancers, to front the band.  On stage and in videos, Morvan and Pilatus would lip synch the songs while dancing around and looking good.

In the early days of the duo, however, Farian had in interviews talked openly about the lip synching and made no attempt to fool the public. Though by the time success came, the part about the lead “singers” being fakes was forgotten.  The first indication that something was not quite right was during a live performance in 1989 when the vocals started skipping, leaving the duo looking ridiculous as the same line repeated over and over.

Other than this one incident, the formula worked quite well until the deception was exposed.  The revelation was met by the public with derision and culminated in Milli Vanilla’s Grammy Award being withdrawn. 

Also in the aftermath, their record company dropped them, and a Cuyahoga County, Ohio woman sued them over having bought the album under the false impression that Morvan and Pilatus were actually singing!  Another lawsuit resulted in refunds for consumers who had purchased the album. 

Despite the scandal, the duo attempted a comeback, this time really singing, and with Farian back as their producer.  Success would not return, however, and Pilatus began a downward spiral of drug use and a string of robberies before dying of an apparent drug overdose in 1998.  Morvan later had some success as a DJ, speaker and performer.

Question for students (and subscribers): Should the duo have been stripped of their award?  The 3 American Music Awards given to them were not rescinded.  Numerous other performers have also caught lip synching in supposedly live performances.  Let us know what you think about live versus “canned music” in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Milli Vanilli.  Girl You Know It’s True – The Best Of Milli Vanilli.  Sony Music Canada Inc., 2013.  Audio CD.

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.