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Arts + CultureMusicMilli Vanilli's Fab Morvan opens up about candid new...

Milli Vanilli’s Fab Morvan opens up about candid new biopic ‘Girl You Know it’s True’

'I can say proudly that love has healed me,' says star who weathered instant fame and disastrous downfall.

Thirty-five years ago, Milli Vanilli was on a career high. The European R&B duo of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus dominated US charts and airwaves with the top-selling multi-platinum LP Girl You Know It’s True.

While top-five singles “Girl You Know It’s True,” “Baby Don’t Forget My Number,” “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” “Blame It on the Rain,” and “All or Nothing” exploded on airwaves, MTV, and DJ setlists—and images of the handsome duo donning long braids, tailored jackets, and leggings were everywhere—behind the scenes they were hiding a two-year-long secret that threatened to implode everything they had worked for. 

On July 21, 1989, during a live performance on MTV at the Lake Compounce theme park in Bristol, CT, the proverbial cat was let out of the bag.

A technical snafu occurred, causing the recording of the No. 1 song “Girl You Know It’s True” to jam and skip, repeatedly playing the partial line “Girl, you know it’s…” through the speakers—and revealing to the world that the duo had been lip-synching all along. 

The Berlin & Beyond showing will feature English subtitles.

After a statement from one of the three actual vocalists on the album that December and public admissions from Milli Vanilli’s producer, Frank Farian, as well as Pilatus and Morvan, the point was drummed home that the duo had never sung a single note. Milli Vanilli, who in early 1990 won the Grammy for Best New Artist, was forced to return it by year’s end.

But that’s not the entire story. In the ensuing years, a 1997 VH1 “Behind the Music,” a 2023 documentary entitled Milli Vanilli, and now a much-anticipated biopic called Girl You Know it’s True, which gets its North American premiere at San Francisco’s 28th Berlin & Beyond Festival (Fri/19) at the Roxie, SF, are giving the public a richer, fuller account of the band’s story. (See 48 Hills critic Dennis Harvey’s guide to the fest here.)

Directed by Simon Verhoeven and starring Tijan Nije as Pilatus and Elan Ben Ali as Morvan, the movie chronicles the dancers’ meteoric rise to fame and explosive career crash.

I spoke to Morvan (set to attend Friday’s premiere) about riding Milli Vanilli’s highs and lows, Pilatus’ tragic death, and who’s really to blame for one of the most controversial moments in music. Hint: It’s not the rain. 

48 HILLS Is Girl You Know It’s True true to how you experienced these events? 

FAB MORVAN When I saw the movie for the first time, I was surprised at how close it stayed to the real story. Simon Verhoeven talked to the majority of the people involved in the Milli Vanilli story and got it right. Because oftentimes with film production, things can turn out to be more dramatic. 

The two actors, Tijan and Elan, did a great job of embodying our characters. They also spent time with Carmen Pilatus, Rob’s sister. So they got the right idea when it came to the dynamics between Rob and me. 

I am a co-producer on the movie and am happy we were able to take the audience, with the documentary as well as the movie, down Milli Vanilli memory lane.

48 HILLS Do you feel, with these films, that perceptions about Milli Vanilli’s career and legacy will change? 

FAB MORVAN Perceptions about us changed already after the “Behind the Music” doc in 1997. I am still recording music, performing in Europe practically every weekend with a live band or backup tape. If you look at the numbers on YouTube, you can see that “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You” has over 150 million views. The majority of our songs have passed the 100 million mark. 

I believe with all the work I’ve put in over the years, I was able to gradually change people’s perspectives including old fans, and make new fans in the process. And now with the movie being released in various territories in Europe and a documentary (currently streaming on Paramount+), where the story is being told by the people who were involved, the audience can get a much better idea and judge for themselves.

48 HILLS Fans saw you and Rob as an inseparable unit. In what ways were you and Rob similar and in what ways were you different? 

FAB MORVAN Rob was more of an outgoing type with a very impulsive personality. I was more of an introvert, always thinking twice before doing anything. We were similar in the way we both had a passion for music and dancing. 

Rob was two years older, so he took a more dominant role. I did let him make the decisions, which I ended up regretting sometimes. It’s like having a big brother who thinks he knows best because he is older. 

48 HILLS How did you cope with the immense fame and scrutiny from being in such a successful group?

FAB MORVAN Fame is very unpredictable. When we were famous, we had a lot of friends, but when our fame turned into blame, we were left with a handful of people, if any, that matter. It made us feel awkward. 

Rob was adopted, and I did not come from a very loving family. My parents divorced when I was 14. The fans gave us a lot of love, which was very addicting. To lose this “high” made us look for other kinds of “highs.” 

Thank God I don’t have an addictive personality. I used songwriting and producing as my therapy. I taught myself how to play the guitar. It’s my passion for music that saved my life. 

48 HILLS What was your reaction when the lip-syncing controversy came to light, and how did it impact you personally and professionally? 

FAB MORVAN I knew the Milli Vanilli train would stop at some point. Rob didn’t—on the other end. He took a hard fall because he didn’t see it coming and it was a major surprise to him when all came to a halt.  

After the scandal came to light, it felt like we landed on the blacklist. Nobody wanted to touch us anymore. All we could do was refocus on Rob & Fab and try to create something new, which we did with the Rob & Fab album. 

It was a dark period in my life; we were thrown to the wolves. We thought we were part of the music family. Quickly, everyone was dropping us one by one, we were used as scapegoats, and the rest of the players went back to their usual business. 

Fab Morvan. Photo: HMP/Alamy Stock Photo

48 HILLS Do you feel compassion for the once-uncredited singers behind your music?

FAB MORVAN Back then, upon entering Frank’s studio we were impressed by the platinum records on the wall. We later found ourselves signing a recording contract in German, which I didn’t speak well at the time. Without an attorney or management to protect us from this skilled businessman, we truly thought we would sing. 

But Frank had a plan in which he wanted us to play a certain role. The songs were already recorded; all he wanted us to do was to be the frontmen. 

48 HILLS Rob described your relationship with Farian as “a deal with the devil.” If you had to ascribe blame for what happened, who’s responsible?

FAB MORVAN As I said before, it was all planned by the mastermind Frank Farian. He knew with the original singers the act would probably not be as spectacular, so putting two young, good-looking dancers on stage was the way to go. I have forgiven everybody involved and see this experience as my biggest life lesson.

48 HILLS In the aftermath of the controversy, how did you navigate the challenges of Rob’s death and rebuilding your career and reputation? What lessons did you learn from the Milli Vanilli experience, and how have they influenced your approach to music and life since then?

FAB MORVAN Rob’s death was a shock; I lost my brother, the only one who knew how it was to walk in our shoes. On the other hand, I knew he could not live long like this. The addiction had taken over; there was not much left of him. I never liked answering the phone because I knew one day the call would come with the news that he had died.

I have been depressed for many years. I did not leave the house and did not want to meet anyone. My love for music helped me during those challenging years. The life lessons I had learned made me a better artist. I can say I feel the emotions I sing about. 

I was not happy for a long time, but when I met my life partner, Tessa, and became a father, I finally got to know what real love is. Being a role model for my four kids, teaching them important life lessons, and seeing them grow up in a healthy family situation makes me happy. I never had all this, and that’s why I need to give this to my kids. I can say proudly that love has healed me. 

GIRL YOU KNOW IT’S TRUE NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE Fri/19. Roxie Theater, SF. Tickets and more info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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