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Fab Morvan Reveals His Only Regret 33 Years After Milli Vanilli's Shocking Lip-Syncing Scandal

Milli Vanilli became the biggest punchline in pop when the world found out the duo didn't sing on their hit album. Surviving member Fab Morvan told E! News why there's so much more to the story.

By Natalie Finn Oct 22, 2023 4:00 PMTags
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Girl, you know the truth about Milli Vanilli. Or do you?

"I thought this story was two guys conned everybody, they're talentless frauds," director Luke Korem, whose new documentary Milli Vanilli unpacks how Fabrice "Fab" Morvan and Rob Pilatus ended up at the center of one of the biggest music scandals of all time, told E! News' Francesca Amiker in an exclusive interview.

But then Korem watched a video on YouTube of Morvan sharing his story at The Moth in New York, and was struck by how calmly the artist spoke about what happened. 

"I could tell he had a peace in his life that I was surprised by," the filmmaker said. Then, when Morvan started to sing and "he has this beautiful voice," he realized he didn't know much about Milli Vanilli at all.

"Nobody was interested in the behind-the-story of what happened," said Morvan, recalling how he and Pilatus had to face the music after their producer told the world it wasn't their voices on the duo's platinum-selling debut album, Girl You Know It's True"It was [all about] Rob and Fab, latching onto them, they're the guilty ones! For a long time, we carried a burden of everything."

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Just months earlier they'd won the 1990 Grammy for Best New Artist. But their arrival was followed swiftly by their departure, Milli Vanilli synonymous with lip-syncing forever after—and in the history books as the first act to have a Grammy rescinded.

"They went from anonymous to worldwide stars, to infamous," Korem said, "all in the span of two years."

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

At the time, they attributed the subterfuge to having signed a contract that got lost in translation, Morvan being from France and Pilatus from Germany. Especially since they'd already received an advance, they said they were under the impression they just had to go along with what producer Frank Farian wanted: To put their faces and names on an album they didn't make. They said everyone expected the release to just come and go.

Instead, Girl You Know It's True was huge. And so the live lip-syncing began, including most infamously during a Club MTV tour stop in Bristol, Conn., on July 21, 1989, when mid-performance of the title track, the tape skipped.

However, any memory lodged in people's minds of the MTV debacle being the big reveal is "complete lore," Korem said. In reality, he explained, "very few people caught on to that. What that tape skip did was cause paranoia within Rob and Fab, that this can't happen." 

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Their most public successes came after—three American Music Awards, the Grammy, the fact that being named the worst act of 1989 by Rolling Stone didn't prevent them from selling 6 million albums—but Pilatus, who died in 1998, once said that he felt like a "mosquito being squeezed."

"The last two years of our lives have been a total nightmare," he told the Los Angeles Times in November 1990 after their producer Farian blew the whistle on the operation during a news conference in Munich. "We've had to lie to everybody."

Morvan struck a conciliatory tone in the aftermath of the scandal, saying on The Arsenio Hall Show, "We don't want to blame or point a finger at anybody, we take the blame on us."

As time went by, though, Morvan decided there was no need to carry that burden alone while, he told E!, "everyone, outside of Rob and Fab, left unscathed."

Franz-Peter Tschauner/picture alliance via Getty Images

So when Korem approached him, wanting to tell the whole story, including how the inner workings of the music industry allowed for such a thing to happen in the first place, Morvan was intrigued.

Still, "it took a year to get him onboard," Korem noted. "And then it took a long time to get all the other people."

After it was revealed that Morvan and Pilatus weren't the real singers, there was left the question of who at Arista Records may have known all along that Milli Vanilli were faking it. (An Arista executive told the LA Times in 1990 they were just the distributor and had no involvement with how the album was actually made. Farian backed that up, saying he never told anyone at the label.) 

And to this day, everyone's still got their own version of events.

Korem's pitch to those he wanted to interview was, "'You're going to get to tell your story, no matter if it conflicts with someone else's story,'" he explained. "Because somewhere in between there's the truth."

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Watching the finished film, there were "executives who were not showing true remorse after all those years," Morvan said, without naming names. "And it took a long time for them to actually utter the words, to speak the truth. I was like, 'Damn.' Even for me, watching that made me cringe. It was like, 'Yo, really? It's like that? Thirty years later, who are you backing up?'"

But, Korem said, the point of the project wasn't to exonerate Milli Vanilli. 

"In the film, even Fab says that 'we embraced the lie,'" he said. "It's to show the people behind the headlines, the real story of the personal journey of Rob and Fab, where they come from, how this impacted them—and, also, the other people."

Most everybody "kept on doing business as usual," Morvan said, shaking his head. "And we were destroyed to a point where Rob lost his life, and I was able to survive through time."

Pilatus was only 32 when he was found dead in a hotel room in Friedrichsdorf, Germany, of what police determined was an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol.

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"Rob was a firecracker," Morvan said of his late friend. Early on they attempted to recapture the magic as Rob & Fab, then planned to tour again as Milli Vanilli, but never got the chance. An audio recording of a conversation Pilatus had in rehab only 60 days before he died is woven into the documentary, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June.

Calling the use of the tape "powerful," Morvan took comfort in knowing that Pilatus was embracing recovery in that moment. "I was trying for a long time to convey to him, 'Make that happen and then you'll be able to be happy again,'" he said.

Pilatus wanted love, Morvan continued, and then when their audience turned on them, they both crumbled. But, he added, "I was able to go not too low. I went clean before he tried to do that. But it was too late because the addiction had taken a toll on his soul, on his mind and on his body."

Rejecting the notion that this moment is a comeback for him—"I never left," he noted—Morvan remains a producer and songwriter. And he still tours, singing those once-maligned Milli Vanilli hits that just needed time to be considered bops once again.

Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

The 57-year-old doesn't know how their experience might have been different if social media had existed back in the day, but he marveled how it's since changed the music business.

"We live in a different world now," he observed. "Look at TikTok, it turned lip-syncing into an art. We got crucified for lip-syncing. I guess we were like trailblazers in some kind of way, not knowing society would evolve to this point."

But ultimately Morvan is happy—as is Pilatus, he added, pointing toward the sky—that their whole story has finally been told.

"My one regret is that Rob is no longer here," Morvan said. "But now it's OK, more people will realize what happened to us. The people who are able to watch the doc right now, they know, and they felt it. And whatever they're feeling, I felt too, and the whole world is going to feel it."

Milli Vanilli starts streaming Oct. 24 on Paramount+

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