The “multi-platinum, Grammy-winning, number one debut album, Girl You Know It's True” (Erlewine) ranks right up there as one of the most controversial albums of all time. The music itself was neither shocking nor groundbreaking; “the fluffy dance-pop and slick ballads on Girl You Know It’s True were of their time, hardly far removed from that of such peers as Paula Abdul, Debbie Gibson, or even the more substantive Janet Jackson. Audiences enjoyed the sound and the look, the entire package of Milli Vanilli” (Erlewine), even if critics weren’t impressed. No, its controversy came out of who did – and who didn’t – actually create the music.
“The good-looking, ridiculously dreadlocked models on the cover didn’t sing on the records” (Erlewine). Pretty boys Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus “just came in for photo sessions, videos, concerts, and award ceremonies” (Erlewine). The album actually featured “vocals by Charles Shaw, John Davis, Brad Howell, and twin sisters Jodie and Linda Rocco” (Wikipedia). However, “producer/ songwriter/ musician/ all-around mastermind and mad genius Frank Farian knew damn well that nobody would want to buy the record after seeing him or the middle-aged studio vocalists that sang on the records” (Erlewine). “Thus, Farian recruited Morvan and Pilatus, two younger and more photogenic model/ dancers he found in a Berlin dance club, to front the act” (Wikipedia).
“Milli Vanilli’s debut album All Or Nothing, was released in Europe in mid-1988, with Rob and Fab front and center and no mention of the actual singers. The success of the record caught the attention of Arista Records, who signed the duo and added a new track penned by Dianne Warren, Blame It on the Rain renaming it to Girl You Know It’s True for release in the American market in early 1989” (Wikipedia).
The title track, which “was a cover version of a Numarx track published in 1987 on the US Bluebird label” (Wikipedia) went all the way to #2 on the U.S. pop charts. “The pair’s next three singles Baby Don’t Forget My Number, Girl I’m Gonna Miss You and ‘Blame It on the Rain all reached number 1. A fifth and final single All or Nothing, also made the Top 5 in the beginning of 1990 in a remixed form which sampled the ‘Keep on Moving’ beat from UK soul act Soul II Soul. Milli Vanilli’s meteoric rise to pop music superstardom culminated with a Grammy Award for Best New Artist” (Wikipedia) – “who voted in all seriousness for Europop this silly as Best New Artist?” (Erlewine).
The seeds of doubt about whether or not Rob & Fab actually sang on the record were sown “in 1989, [when] during a live performance recorded by MTV…, the recording of the song ‘Girl You Know It’s True’ jammed and began to skip, repeating the partial line ‘Girl, you know it’s…’ over and over. According to…VH1's Behind the Music…, fans attending the concert didn’t seem to care or even notice and the concert continued as if nothing unusual had happened, but critics did” (Wikipedia).
“Due to rising public questions regarding the source of talent in the group, as well as the insistence of Morvan and Pilatus to Farian that they be allowed to sing on the next album, Farian confessed to reporters on November 12, 1990” (Wikipedia). The American public was shocked “that those pretty German boys weren’t actually soulfully singing in flawless English on those impeccably constructed dance tracks, and immediately shunned the duo” (Erlewine). “Milli Vanilli’s Grammy was withdrawn four days later…and Arista Records dropped the act from its roster and deleted their album and its masters from their catalog” (Wikipedia).
The reaction may have seemed extreme; after all, “at the end of the ‘80s, MTV changed the rules for mainstream pop, putting the emphasis on image and overall package, to the extent that major artists lip-synched in concert so they could deliver better dance routines. So, it really wasn’t that extreme to have a group with two faces – one to make the music, one to market it” (Erlewine). ON top of that, in “dance-pop (especially Euro-dance!), just like [an airbrushed centerfold in] Playboy, artificiality is the name of the game” (Erlewine).
“On that level, it’s hard not to listen to Girl You Know It’s True and marvel at the level of Farian’s studiocraft, since it doesn’t even sound like he programmed a computer to make this music; it sounds like something the machine wrote on its own accord. There are no natural sounds or human emotions on this record, just a bunch of shiny hooks and big beats, all processed and precisely assembled to be totally irresistible to a mass audience” (Erlewine).
“And it was massively popular, no matter how many people denied owning the record after the news spread. And why shouldn’t it have been? The height of the Bush era was a weird, giddy time, when the mainstream was filled with effervescent, transient pop, and nothing sums up that era as well as Girl You Know It's True. This isn’t just music that’s all surface, this is music that gives the impression of having a surface, then not delivering on that. It’s thin as a ribbon, the beats are fairly clunky, the hooks are huge and stupid (apart from Diane Warren’s ‘Blame It on the Rain,’ which is the only classically constructed song on the album), and, ultimately, really dorky. But what makes it fascinating is that it’s unrestrained, unhinged dorkiness, music that is completely awkward and sort of fun and memorable because of it” (Erlewine).
“There’s not much here worth hearing outside of the five…Top Five singles, but it ultimately holds up better than the European counterpart, All or Nothing, which was padded with goofy Eurotrash fodder. And, years after the lip-synching hubbub, it’s hard to imagine why there was such a fuss about an album so transparent, lightweight, and intentionally disposable. Then again, listening to it now, you can’t believe that anyone thought Rob and Fab were really singing…But when it comes down to it, this music is so manufactured, it doesn’t sound like anyone is really singing. And that's what’s sort of cool about it” (Erlewine).