Milli Vanilli

Milli Vanilli
Release date
01 January 1970
Milli Vanilli
01 January 1970 |

Milli Vanilli was the brainchild of German producer Frank Farian, who’d previously masterminded the European disco group Boney M. and the session-musician rock outfit Far Corporation. Seeking to fuse European dance-pop with elements of American rap, Farian assembled a number of session musicians and vocalists, including rapper Charles Shaw (an Army veteran) and two middle-aged American singers living in Germany, Johnny Davis and Brad Howell (some accounts give his name as Howe). Realizing that he had a marketable record but a distinctly unmarketable image, Farian hired two aspiring models and former breakdancers, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan, to pretend to be the group in videos, concerts, interviews, and the like.

Pilatus had been born in New York in 1965, but grew up in Munich, spending some time in an orphanage after his parents (an American soldier and German stripper) gave him up for adoption. Morvan was born in 1966 on the island of Guadeloupe, lived in Miami for a time, and moved with his mother to Paris; he had been a skilled trampoline athlete until he suffered a neck injury in a fall. Both skilled dancers, the two had met sometime circa 1984 (differing accounts list their meeting place as Munich, Paris, or Los Angeles) and were attempting to make it as singers, dancers, models, or whatever they could. Their exotic look and long dreadlock extensions were just what Farian was looking for.

Milli Vanilli’s first album, All or Nothing, was released in Europe in 1988 and was an instant success. Retitled Girl You Know It’s True (after the lead single) and trimmed a bit, the record was issued in the U.S. in early 1989. Its catchy, lightweight pop-rap proved equally popular with American audiences; “Girl You Know It’s True” raced up the pop charts to number two, and the next three Milli Vanilli singles — “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” the ballad “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” and the Diane Warren-penned “Blame It on the Rain” — all hit number one.

Girl You Know It’s True sold an astounding seven million copies in the U.S. alone; internationally, Milli Vanilli sold approximately 30 million singles. In December 1989, as the fifth single “All or Nothing” was climbing the charts on its way to the Top Five.

Milli Vanilli was soon nominated for a Grammy award for Best New Artist, they won it, for the record beating out the Indigo Girls, Neneh Cherry, Soul II Soul, and Tone-Loc.