Picture of Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Milli Vanilli is an engrossing documentary

Director Luke Korem sheds light on one of the most controversial con jobs in music history with Milli Vanilli. The documentary tells the story of Robert “Rob” Pilatus and Fabrice “Fab” Morvan, who became fast friends during their youth in Germany. With Rob coming from a broken home and Fab leaving an abusive household, they shared a similar upbringing and future goal: becoming famous superstars. Their dreams came true in a few short years when they met producer Frank Farian.

 Rob and Fab would become the pop duo Milli Vanilli. They released their debut album in 1989. The album was a massive success in the United States, achieving platinum status six times over. One of the most popular tracks on the album was “Girl You Know It’s True,” which sold over 30 million singles worldwide, propelling the duo to global fame. In 1990, they won the coveted GRAMMY award for Best New Artist, cementing their status as one of the most promising acts in the music industry.

Unfortunately, their meteoric rise to fame was short-lived. It was later revealed that Milli Vanilli had not sung on their album but had lip-synced to the vocals of John Davis, Brad Howell, and Charles Shaw. This revelation caused a massive scandal and stripped the duo of their GRAMMY award and fame overnight. The incident devastated Rob and Fab’s personal and professional lives, leaving behind a cautionary tale about the music industry’s dark side.

I remember the “Milli Vanilli” scandal from my childhood in the late eighties and early nineties. The scandal became a popular topic for late-night talk shows such as Arsenio Hall and was even featured in an infamous In Living Color skit. However, even after watching the debut episode of VH1’s Behind The Music, which focused on the group, I only realized how far-reaching the scandal was once I saw the documentary.

Korem takes the standard music documentary approach to his narrative, providing detailed bullet points about what happened. However, the true strength of the documentary is that when we hear from Farian. In 2023, the music industry has changed drastically. Nowadays, almost anyone can become a star. However, this phenomenon raises an important question: Are the aspiring artists responsible for their success, or are they victims of a system that has made it easy for anyone to get famous? Moreover, who should be held accountable for their actions if they fall somewhere in between?

The documentary shows us they could sing and had enough stage presence to appeal to their demographic. Since Pilatus passed on, Morvan tells the bulk of the story. Morvan doesn’t overly play the victim card, continues performing, and is at peace with the debacle. The group even gets a defender in the form of Downtown Julie Brown, while icons such as Timberland and Diane Warren speak on the Milli Vanilli impact in the eighties.

As a fan of documentaries, I always look to learn something I didn’t know. While Milli Vanilli does hit familiar notes, it also successfully humanizes the group.

Final Grade: B +

Milli Vanilli is available to stream tomorrow on Paramount +

 

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