THE DISCLOSURE that the pop-music duo known as Milli Vanilli didn't actually do the singing on their 1989 hit record is somewhat less remarkable than the fact that they were then able to go a year and a half in the public eye without its being detected. In fact, the deception might never have been uncovered if the two hadn't demanded that they be allowed to do their next recording with their own voices. That was too much for Frank Farian, the German rock producer who had concocted the hit record, and he finally chose to go public.
Mr. Farian said a recording had already been made of what was to be one of the biggest hits on the album (ironically enough, the song's title was "Girl You Know It's True"; exactly who did sing it is still unclear) when two photogenic young men named Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan showed up at his German studio wanting to make a record. "It suddenly clicked in my mind, and it was kind of evident," said Mr. Farian. "I had the music, there were the people who wanted to perform outside. And I said, 'Hey, let's put that together and make a great record out of it.' "
The ensuing album sold 7 million copies and won a Grammy Award for the newly constituted Milli Vanilli, who became a popular presence on the nonstop music video network MTV and in concert appearances, where they performed bare-chested and athletically, doing just about everything to please their audiences except sing. And in truth the audiences probably didn't care that much that the two were only moving their mouths with the music. Lip-synching of one's recorded songs has become an accepted practice at some big pop concerts. Instrumental and vocal sounds have long been synthesized and electronically altered in the studio. Performers in videos whirl all over the set while at the same time purportedly belting out songs -- a true aerobic miracle, if anyone watching thought it were real.
The only person who seemed truly upset by the Milli Vanilli case was Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which gives out the Grammies. He said the group is likely to be stripped of its award. That's never occurred before, so there's no precedent for how it would be done, but one possibility we envision is a parade-ground ceremony with platoons of pop musicians drawn up in ranks, electronically enhanced drumrolls and a grim-faced recording executive presiding. There wouldn't be much point in his trying to pluck gold buttons off the offenders' chests, but he might attempt to break their CD over his knee.