Milli Vanilli, the funky dreadlocked dance-pop duo that won a Grammy Award as Best New Artist of 1989 for its debut album, "Girl You Know It's True," didn't sing a note on it, group member Rob Pilatus confessed yesterday.
The album sold 7 million copies and made Pilatus and Fab Morvan international stars.
The disclosure was initially made in Munich Wednesday by Milli Vanilli's German producer, Frank Farian, after he fired the performers because they insisted on actually singing on a planned follow-up album.
Confronted by the Los Angeles Times yesterday, Pilatus said: "I feel like a mosquito being squeezed. The last two years of our lives have been a total nightmare. We've had to lie to everybody. We are true singers but that maniac Frank Farian would never allow us to express ourselves."
Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, said yesterday that Milli Vanilli may be stripped of its Grammy, a measure never taken in the 33-year history of the award.
"If there's been a substantial fraudulent misrepresentation of the entity, I think there is a high likelihood that the academy would have to take some action," Greene said from Los Angeles.
Farian said he was forced to go public when the two men -- who do an energetic but sloppy lip-sync performance in concerts -- informed him earlier this month they wanted to sing on their sequel album.
"I said, 'No. I don't go for that.' Sure, they have a voice, but that's not really what I want to use on my records," Farian told the Associated Press. Though he refused to say who had actually done the singing, Farian said the album's title song was already recorded when the dynamic duo first showed up at his studio.
"It suddenly clicked in my mind, and it was kind of evident: I had the music, there were the people who wanted to perform outside," said Farian. "And I said, 'Hey, let's put that together and make a great record out of it.' "
Milli Vanilli has been a big hit on MTV, which put its videos, "Girl You Know It's True" and "Blame It on the Rain," into heavy rotation, propelling the group up the Hot 100 charts. During last year's MTV awards, Pilatus and Morvan said they were better than Elvis, Bob Dylan or the Beatles.
The disclosure that someone else did their singing confirms rumors that had arisen almost as soon as the Milli Vanilli album and videos were released. In interviews Pilatus and Morvan rarely spoke about their music. In concert and on television programs, they would move their lips in a way that was not always in sync with the vocal track.
Then there were the accents: Pilatus is from Guadaloupe and Morvan is from Germany. The men speak English with European accents that are absent from the album.
Roy Lott, Arista Records' vice president for operations, said that it was only this week that Farian confirmed the rumors. "Rob, Fab and Frank previously had told us that they did sing on the record," he said.
In a statement late last night, Pilatus and Morvan insisted that their record company had known all along that they were not the actual recording artists. "We have insisted since 1989 that we be allowed to sing on all Milli Vanilli records. We have been ready, willing and able to record our own vocals and have been prevented by Frank Farian from doing so."
They also said that Farian had little to do with their concerts, live sound, video or image, "which were solely our creation."
Lott did not sound particularly upset about the revelation. He pointed out that Arista did not sign the group, but was simply responsible for the American distribution of an album originally released on the German Ariola label.
"Frank Farian is a creative genius, songwriter, arranger and producer, and he has my full support," Lott said.
In the past few years, lip-synching and studio stand-ins have become more prevalent, at least partly because of the expectations nurtured by videos and dance-oriented music. Several states, including California, New Jersey and New York, have introduced legislation requiring that concert-goers be told if the live performances they're paying for used pre-recorded music, whether instrumental or vocal.
Sometimes, singers featured in videos bear no relation to the artists who recorded the music. The singer on "Everybody Everybody," a substantial dance hit for the Italian group Black Box, is a member of the group Weather Girls, but the video features a professional model who doesn't even speak English.
So who sang on the Milli Vanilli album, then?
American Charles Shaw said in a Newsday interview one year ago that he did the singing, but subsequently retracted the claim.
From Germany yesterday, Shaw still avoided a clear-cut answer, but he told the Times that "once you hear me sing and then you have the Milli Vanilli record in your hand, even if I told you it wasn't me singing, you wouldn't believe me."
Meanwhile, Pilatus expressed a sense of relief.
"We were afraid for two years that this day would come," he said. "We've cried about it sometimes, that the secret might come out. But deep inside, we wanted it to happen. I'm happy now that I can talk to our fans about it. We won't let them down. I swear we will soon have an album out with our own voices on it which will prove our talent."