Rewinding the Charts: 25 Years Ago, Milli Vanilli Made History on the Hot 100
The duo was famously revealed for its lip-synching and stripped of its Grammy, but not before achieving a Billboard first.
MILII VANILLI – French-born Fabrice Morvan and German Rob Pilatus – was on a historic roll, as, on Nov. 25, 1989, "Blame It on the Rain" became the duo's third Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 from its debut album, and seven-week Billboard 200 No. 1, Girl You Know It's True. (The ascent also gave writer Diane Warren back-to-back No. 1s: it dethroned "When I See You Smile," which she wrote for rockers Bad English.)
After the set's title track reached No. 2, "Baby Don't Forget My Number" and "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You" each hit No. 1. With the coronation of the shuffling, horn-inflected "Rain," Milli Vanilli became the first duo or group to land three Hot 100 No. 1s from a debut album. The acclaim helped the twosome win the best new artist Grammy Award on Feb. 21, 1990.
The set would yield one more top five ("All or Nothing") in early 1990, but the bubble of the Milli Vanilli phenomenon burst when, that Nov. 12, Frank Farian, who masterminded the pair, confirmed that Morvan and Pilatus didn't sing on the album, instead acting as figureheads on artwork and in videos and concerts. After widespread rumors of lip-synching at shows, Farian confessed that "Rob and Fab asked to sing on the next record and that's something [I] cannot accept," as Billboard reported in the Nov. 24, 1990 issue. Four days after his confession, Milli Vanilli's Grammy Award was withdrawn. Arista Records dropped the duo and took Girl You Know It's True out of print. (The LP's actual singers: John Davis, Brad Howell and Jodie and Linda Rocco.)
Morvan and Pilatus teamed up on their own in the early '90s, but without even approaching chart success. By 1997, Farian agreed to work with them again – even resurrecting the Milli Vanilli moniker. On the eve of their comeback tour on April 2, 1998, however, Pilatus, who had struggled with drug addiction and served time for assault and attempted robbery, was found dead in his Frankfurt hotel room.
Morvan has since released music solo (and even performed recently with Davis). Milli Vanilli's planned 1998 second album, to be titled Back and In Attack, has never been released.
"Being positive is a way to be," Morvan wrote on Twitter last month. "If anyone tries to take you off that very path ... just ignore them. They are not worth it."
A version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of Billboard magazine.