Accused of Fraud, Milli Vanilli Sings the Blues (or Hires Someone to Do It)

updated 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Girl You Know It's True" was the title of the 1988 single and decillion-selling album that sent cornrowed Milli Vanilli to the top of the pop charts. Now, less than a year after Rob Pilatus, 24, and Fab Morvan, 24, brandished Best New Artist Grammys on national television, the world knows it wasn't true at all—the high-stepping duo never sang a note. The pair's German record producer, Frank Farian, fessed up after Pilatus and Morvan insisted they be allowed to use their actual voices for a change on an upcoming record. Instead, he showed them the door, then revealed at a Nov. 14 press conference that he had originally hired the two unemployed male models in 1987 to appear in promotional videos lip-syncing songs he'd already recorded with vocals by three studio musicians.

Variations of the ploy are older than the Archies. But this incident has led to the Millis being stripped of their Grammys—and accusations that fraud was perpetrated by Farian and the group's label, Arista, which denies prior knowledge of the deception. For the Millis, however, the announcement was cause for relief. "We were afraid for two years that this day would come," Pilatus said later. "We've cried about it sometimes, that the secret might come out."

The Millis admitted early on that they weren't entirely what they appeared to be. After all, their video and stage appeal depends in part on $750 hair extensions, as well as chest and leg waxings. In their two years as Milli Vanilli, Pilatus and Morvan worked under a contract that even Farian said "left something to be desired." "They are the victims here," says ex-manager Todd Headlee, a surprise ally, fired by the duo in August. "They were betrayed by their producer. Frank had a song he'd done in the studio. When Rob and Fab showed up, Frank talked them into doing a video. He promised them a recording contract. The next thing you know, the song was a huge smash, and Frank asked them to do another video and then another. They got swept into this thing—conned into it." Headlee admits the two don't inspire much sympathy. "They became spoiled little superstars, and they weren't very humble," he says. "But I know they felt really bad about all of this."

Bad, perhaps, but not yet beaten. Pilatus and Morvan, who have retreated to their home in the Hollywood Hills for now, vow to find a new producer and record an album "with our own voices on it, which will prove our talent."

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