Denver PrideFest 2012 played host to the first solo American appearance of Fab Morvan -- better known as the brown-eyed one in the pop group Milli Vanilli, a group that was scandalized with the 1990 discovery that Morvan and Rob Pilatus didn't sing on their award winning album. While no more relevant to history than a discarded Trivial Pursuit question, Milli Vanilli still intrigues people, and people want to know whatever happened to those guys -- they were, after all, profoundly good looking.
Yesterday was Family Day at PrideFest, which mostly seemed to translate to a bit less exposed skin and slightly less pot smoking -- more babies and puppies and less dancing on blocks. About ten minutes before Fab Morvan took the stage the sky was grey, but alas, the clouds parted and the sun came out, dashing any possibilities that if Morvan's performance was a bust, he could at least blame it on the rain.
If Morvan had a chance of making it anywhere, though, it was here. The gay scene doesn't hold the same grudge against Milli Vanilli that mainstream crowds do: After all, getting dressed up and performing dance routines while lip synching to tacky synth pop isn't exactly frowned upon in gay culture. What's more, time has been surprisingly kind to the Milli Vanilli legacy.
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Thanks to BBC and VH1 documentaries in the early 2000s, the story of Rob and Fab's rise to stardom appeared somewhat tragic for the two young boys, almost akin to Stromboli's seduction and destruction of young Pinochio. Morvan was only eighteen when he moved from France to Germany, and after being discovered in a club with his new German music partner, was offered a heavy advance and record contract -- the contract was in German, which French Fab couldn't read, but signed anyway.
After blowing their fortune on clothes and hair-extensions, Morvan Pilatus were informed of their producer's lip synching intentions, basically confessing to them that their faces and abs were the sum total of their worth. And yet the band was a mega-success, its debut album Girl You Know It's True hitting number one on the American charts, making the tape-skipping blunder -- which lead to their outing as frauds by the same producer that signed them -- all the more horrifying.
The group never recovered, despite attempts to release an authentic album to prove their vocal competence. In 1998, Rob Pilatus died of a drug overdose, which many suspect was a suicide. Morvan released a solo record in 2003, but had yet to visit the United States, the nation that once loved and hated him with a mirrored ferocity. And for good reason. Just because the public has sprouted some sympathy for Manilli Vanilli, doesn't mean they're convinced that, had Rob & Fab really been the genuine article, they would have talent. And apparently, since no one bought their post-scandal albums, there's little public curiosity to answer that question.
The crowd was reasonably thick yesterday when Morvan was introduced, the MC, at one point, making the faux-pas of using the pro-noun "they" when referring to the act -- reminding everyone of what the show was missing, and why it was missing it. Morvan looked much skinnier than he did in 1989, but this could have been attributed to the act's signature look at the time of cascading dreads and massively wide shoulder pads. When he opened with the menacingly iconic "Girl You Know It's True," it was surprising to find that Morvan sounded... exactly like Milli Vanilli.
But it's worth pointing out that what ruined this man's career, what became the singularly defining characteristic of his legacy, was that he was misrepresenting himself when he pretended to sing "Girl You Know It's True" on stage. And now here he is, sounding exactly like that record. If Morvan was only a teenager when he first began mouthing along to someone else's vocal track, then when the time came for him to do it himself it was probably an unconscious decision to mimic what he was "supposed" to sound like.
The chances that he just happens to have a natural singing voice that coincidentally matches the one he was frauded for copying is too sideways a notion to consider. Yet it's nice to hear the songs. "Take it as it Comes," and "Baby, Don't Forget My Number" deliver an appropriate amount of mall-bangs nostalgia to PrideFest, an event that has become known for a kitschy sentimentality.
Although by the time he got around to the ballad "Girl, I'm Gonna Miss You," the crowd had thinned to the point where a roller hockey game could easily maneuver it's way through it. Maybe the novelty had worn off, or perhaps it was those lyrics: "It's a tragedy for me to see/The dream is over . . . there was nothing I could do to make you stay . . . I'm gonna miss you." They almost read like lyrics to his deceased partner in crime. Or at least that's the way they read to members of a reality TV culture, where entire lives can be encapsulated in a ninety second Intervention-style narrative.
The crowd dutifully returned for the closer of Morvan's five song set, the melancholic "Blame it on the Rain." All the Proud people sincerely cheered on the skinny frenchman, most likely giving him the assurance that they finally love him for who he is, while the crowd simultaneously enjoyed music that didn't sound a note different than what they listened to on their Walkman a generation earlier.
Personal Bias: When I was twelve I received an Milli Vanilli poster as a consolation prize for not being able to connect my darts to a balloon at the carnival. This was after their scandal, and when I got home I drew small tape recorders over their mouths and hung the poster on my wall, feeling I was making an endlessly witty statement about the music industry.
By the Way: The MC promised a second, unscheduled, Morvan appearance the following day.
Random Detail: Fab Morvan speaks better English than most Americans; at times his accent was almost untraceable.
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