One of the stranger images in pop culture this year has been the one above, of Drake’s face pasted onto the body of a Milli Vanilli member. It came courtesy of Meek Mill, the rapper who picked a fight on Twitter over the summer by claiming that Drake doesn’t write his own songs. In one of the diss tracks to result, Mill (nickname: “Meek Milli!”) called Drake a “Milli Vanilli-ass n*****.” T-Pain, commenting on the controversy, boiled it down to being a “Milli Vanilli thing.”
Among the many important implications of this headline-making beef is the notion that, despite or perhaps because of the best efforts of some of pop culture’s watchdog forces, Milli Vanilli hasn’t been forgotten. November 27 marks a quarter century since the Grammys revoked the Best New Artist trophy from the act whose songs, it turned out, were sung not by the European models Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus but by uncredited musicians working with the producer Frank Farian. It’s one of the most important scandals in pop history, especially when viewed in the context of today’s cultural wars over realness and fakeness.
Morvan and Pilatus always maintained that they were suckered by Farian, who recruited them for their looks and presented them with a catchy demo track that they, despite his promises, were never given a chance to rerecord. As that track, “Girl You Know It’s True,” rose to the top of the charts internationally, the two became sensations who gyrated (with great finesse and charisma) for screaming masses. In one spectacularly ill-advised quote, they told a Time reporter that they were more talented than Bob Dylan or Paul McCartney. A backing-track malfunction at a show fed rumors that they were just lip syncing, but it all really began to unravel when a singer named Charles Shaw said that he was the real voice on “Girl You Know It’s True,” after which Farian owned up about what he’d created.