Review by Dan Skip Allen
I would be lying if I said I wasn't a fan of Milli Vanilli as a teenage kid. Sure, I wasn't a young teenage girl smitten with these two good-looking European guys with electronic voices. I was just an average white kid from an inner-city Massachusetts town. I just knew what sounded good to my ears. I loved all their hits, including "Girl You Know It's True" and "Blame It On the Rain" are two of their biggest hits. Little did I know they didn't actually sing these songs.
I lived in an era where there were many pop stars I loved, like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cindy Lauper, and Whitney Houston. Milli Vanilli seemed like they were going to be just another artist like these… until they started talking and doing interviews. Even as a kid, I heard something in their voices that didn't vibe with their singing voices. Although there can be a separation between speaking voices and singing voices, this duo took it to the extreme. These guys had European accents, but sang like they couldn't speak fluently in English. There was something wrong with this, I could feel it.
Eventually, the news broke that these guys were a fraud. I felt better, but a lot of people didn't feel so good. The Grammy Nominating Committee felt slighted and investigated this, and found these guys guilty of not singing these songs. They said the duo had to return their Grammys. This is the first and only time this ever happened. They have lived in infamy ever since.
The documentary effectively dives into how this duo fooled the world before their lie came crashing down. These two guys, Fabrice Morvan and Robert Pilatus, met while they were both struggling musicians in Europe. Frank Farian was a music producer in Germany, and he had success with one band, who he also had lip-syncing their songs to good results. They weren't stars outside Europe, though. That's the difference between them and Milli Vanilli. The latter achieved massive stardom across the pond and around the world.
Like many documentaries, this one has a lot of talking heads. Filmmaker Luke Korem gives a lot of butt-hurt people the opportunity to voice their opinions. Farian isn't among those, but Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren, Timbaland, and the men and women who actually did record these songs and didn't get the credit for them had their moment to get the credit they deserve. These people had a lot of informative, in-depth things to say. It was eye-opening even for me, who already knew about this story. Imagine what it's like for those who didn't know about this scandal.
We live in an era of the 24-hour news cycle, and stories like this one had their fifteen minutes of fame before news stations moved on to the next OJ Simpson, Tonya Harding, or Richard Jewell from the Atlanta Olympic bombing. Thirty-five years have gone by since this worldwide scandal took place, and the true story has yet to come out until now. Yes, these guys had a press conference confessing their guilt, and Farian broke the story to European newspapers and television stations telling the truth of who actually sang the songs, but the whole truth hasn't come out like this. This film documents everything from the horse's mouth — well, some of them, as one half of the duo tragically passed away due to a drug overdose years ago.
The documentary Milli Vanilli is a good one. It delves deep into the true nature of the cost of fame and fortune. These two poor guys from Europe would do anything for fame, and they bought into the scheme by Farian, even though at first they didn't want to. Farian wasn't stupid — he knew these guys couldn't sing fluently in English. They could barely speak the language, let alone sing in it. This film documents the true story behind this fraud, but as we see, it's not all the fault of these two aspiring singers. Nevertheless, the cost is high, as the original singers didn't get their due either. This documentary effectively shows all the sides of this crazy story from the ‘80s.
Milli Vanilli streams on Paramount+ beginning October 24.