The director of Paramount+’s new Milli Vanilli documentary has opened up about his drive to tell the story of one of pop’s biggest scandals.
The film hits the streamer on October 25 and recounts the rapid rise and spectacular fall of the titular European duo, who scored global hit records with Girl I’m Gonna Miss You, Baby Don’t Forget My Number and Blame It On The Rain – all US No. 1s – and even won a Grammy, before it was revealed they didn’t sing a note on their record.
Speaking in RETROPOP’s November issue, filmmaker Luke Korem says: “I really wanted to take people on a journey and make Rob and Fab the central story. So you’re following these kids, who come from broken homes and backgrounds, who want to be stars – then they get it, but in the worst possible way, and carry this lie.
“What happens to their life as a result? Everybody knows the lie came out and they lip-synced – great, that’s in there – but it’s more about behind the scenes, what they were feeling, the emotional toll… That was what I was most interested in.”
He knew the story before the project began, but the spark came when he stumbled upon a YouTube video of Fabrice Morvan – one half of the duo alongside Robert Pilatus – giving a talk in New York about his life. “At the end, he sang and he had this really beautiful voice. I thought, ‘Wait a minute – why would he ever agree to lip sync?’,” says Korem. “That led me down a rabbit hole and I then started doing a lot of research on Frank Farian, looking at the real singers, and what I realised is that this story has really been boiled down to some sensational headlines.
“Yet, there was a very rich personal story about the people behind this and the wreckage it caused in their lives. So I really wanted to take a more personal approach and also do some investigating to find out who really is to blame.”
As Milli Vanilli basked in the glory of their newfound fame, a storm was brewing behind the scenes. Rumours began circulating that the duo didn’t actually sing on their records, but swept up by life in the spotlight, they had to keep going.
“They found themselves in this position where they were given the keys to fame, but in a way that they never wanted,” Korem reflects. “And then they became part of the lie and they had to carry that burden. So psychologically, it had this incredibly profound impact on both of them.”
With rumours rife, the duo’s discontent mounted and as they demanded they be allowed to sing on the next album, Farian announced that he had fired them and confessed they did not sing on the records, confirming instead that a group of session musicians performed on the hits.
On the surface, it was a formula that would characterise the dance music scene at least for years to come, but the sheer volume of success Milli Vanilli achieved made it impossible to overlook the deception. “They won a Grammy. It also involved Clive Davis and Arista Records, which was the biggest record label in the world at the time. And MTV,” explains Korem. “You had the perfect storm, which made the fallout so terrible. And the fact that they were Black played a huge part in the backlash, I think.”
In the wake of the scandal, Milli Vanilli were stripped of their Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and their image took a severe hit. The situation took its toll on both of them; in the years that followed, they both left the US and returned to Europe and despite releasing an album as a duo, it didn’t match their previous success. Rob struggled with drug addiction and ultimately passed away in April 1998 from an alcohol and prescription drug overdose, while Fab also stepped out of the spotlight for several years.
He gave three days of interviews for the documentary, of which Korem admits: “It was almost like therapy for him. What amazes me is that he’s come to peace with everything that has happened, because he had to leave America. He shaved his head and in the film he says that when he would go in public, if he heard someone laugh he instantly thought they were laughing at him. So he had an incredibly intense mental struggle. And I think when you look at what happened with Rob, he did too. And unfortunately, it took his life…”
Read the full interview in the November 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.