In 1989, Milli Vanilli rose to instant superstardom, selling more than 30 million singles worldwide. By 1990, frontmen Rob Pilatus and Fabrice “Fab” Morvan were Grammy winners, Grammy give-backers, and the most notable frauds in pop-music history.

The infamous lip-syncing scandal was famously covered in a 1997 “Behind the Music.” But Morvan, the lone surviving member of Milli Vanilli, still has much more story to tell. Enter: Luke Korem, who “stumbled” across Morvan’s version of the story on YouTube. The 40-year-old director was immediately taken — and instantly reeducated.

“He was so well-spoken and very calm the way he talked about it — it didn’t sound like he was bitter or angry. And at the end of it he sang and he had this beautiful voice,” Korem told IndieWire during a recent interview. “I thought, ‘Wait, wait a minute, I thought the story was these two talentless guys that pulled one over on everybody.’”

We all did, Luke.

Korem set out to expose Milli Vanilli producer Frank Farian, whom he called the “mastermind behind the con.” Justice for Pilatus and Morvan followed in the form of a three-part documentary series feature-length documentary. (After initially picturing “Milli Vanilli” as a docuseries, Korem decided it worked better as a single piece.) “Rob and Fab were crushed for something that they were a part of, but they were a part of a machine,” Korem continued. “And they were exploited, and it ultimately killed Rob. I just wanted to put people in their shoes.”

Pilatus died in 1998 from an alcohol and prescription drug overdose. His death was ruled accidental.

Viewers of “Milli Vanilli” will get Pilatus and Morvan’s side of the story, as Morvan serves as the main storyteller here. While Farian declined to participate, Korem got the next best thing: Farian’s former financial controller and girlfriend, Ingrid “Milli” Segieth. (Her nickname is where the “Milli” in “Milli Vanilli” came from.)

There are a lot of lies to wade through in the story of Milli Vanilli — namely the obvious one about Pilatus and Morvan actually singing their most famous jams. That’s been covered to death. But even now, as evidenced by (at least) one point in “Milli Vanilli,” either Morvan or Segieth is still lying. The key question remains: Were Morvan and Pilatus initially in on the scam, or were they tricked? It depends who is sitting down in front of Korem’s camera, because we get both versions in his “Milli Vanilli.”

Below is Morvan’s recollection of the first time he and Pilatus were schooled to the scheme. From the documentary:

“We end up in this dark room. Rob and Frank start talking really fast in German, so I can’t really understand everything. But I can tell it’s getting intense. They raised their voices. Rob is looking at me with these green eyes; he looks pissed. Frank leaves and screams, and then Rob turns to me saying, ‘They don’t want us to sing on this record … they want us to lip-sync the song.’”

They didn’t want to lip-sync, Morvan added:

“That’s when Ingrid gave us the options. What she conveyed to us, clearly, was that we signed the contract, we got money. If we didn’t want to take part, we have to pay them back.”

And it wasn’t just the advance, it was “all the money” Segieth were given through the months:

“We developed a debt to Frank Farian. We were scared as hell. I was 21 years old and Rob was 24. We had nowhere to go, so we thought, ‘OK, it’s one song. You do that and you’re out.’”

MILL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 13: (L-R) Director Luke Korem and Fabrice Morvan arrive at the premiere of "Milli Vanilli" at 2023 Mill Valley Film Festival at The Outdoor Art Club on October 13, 2023 in Mill Valley, California. (Photo by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)
Luke Korem and Fabrice Morvan arrive at the premiere of “Milli Vanilli” at 2023 Mill Valley Film FestivalGetty Images

Clearly, Pilatus and Morvan didn’t take that route. Morvan says their contract, unbeknownst to he and Pilatus, was actually a three-album deal. Still, they didn’t walk away; by then, stardom had set in.

That’s all they were after from the jump, Segieth says in the doc, and the guys didn’t care what they had to do — or had not to do — to get there. Segieth said Pilatus and Morvan’s reaction to first being told they were going to lip sync was one of “no problem at all.” “They agreed and said ‘OK, when can we start?,’” she says in the doc. “There was never an argument. Never ever. Never.”

Segieth also denies ever asking them the for advance money back. “If they would refuse, they could go back to Munich and work for a garbage company,” she said.

And while that might not be nice, it also doesn’t automatically mean she’s lying. We asked the director/producer/referee Korem if he was able to come to a conclusion on this sticking point. “I lean more towards Fab’s side of that story,” Korem said. “Think about it, they were singing before in a band called Empire Bazaar, and then someone tells you you’re not singing, what are you just going to automatically go, ‘Oh, fine’? No, of course not.”

Ultimately, Korem said, he wants the viewer to decide. But he also said, “I think it’s kind of clear when you watch Ingrid, as she goes on, you can tell when the truth is coming on and when it’s not.”

Korem also said Segieth’s “dangerous” and “untrustworthy” sides are clearly present in his piece.

“Milli Vanilli” ends with Morvan singing the group’s first ever Billboard no. 1 hit “Blame It on the Rain” — live. (Brad Howell and John Davis were the actual vocalists on the album recording.) Korem is clearly taken by Morvan’s vocals, but he’s no music critic — and neither are we.

Billboard’s Gil Kaufman, who was also in the “Milli Vanilli” doc, published a comprehensive oral history in February 2020 on the group’s rise and fall. He shared enough stories with IndieWire to make it clear that those in the studio adamantly denied Pilatus and Morvan’s ability to sing. Farian eventually denied Pilatus and Morvan’s interest in even trying.

Morvan told us a slightly different story. He says that he and Pilatus “always” sang — including at the group’s sound checks. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)” by The Tokens was a regular favorite, he said, and their harmonies were “perfect.” “But Frank never asked us to sing,” Morvan said. “He assumed.”

Well, Morvan is clearly singing now. But can he sing? During our conversation, Kaufman used adjectives like “OK,” “fine,” and “pretty passable” to describe Morvan’s voice today. Basically, Morvan is now on par with the best karaoke singer in your group of friends, we collectively decided. “He’s had 25 years to hone his craft,” Kaufman said. “He’s put in, clearly, his 10,000-plus hours.”

If that’s an insult to Morvan’s singing voice in 1990, it is also a testament to all the hard work he’s done since. Korem admits Morvan has “definitely gotten better as a singer.” He recalled playing Morvan’s present-day vocals for legendary songwriter Diane Warren, whom he interviewed in her studio for the doc. “There’s people with worse vocals who have come in here and I’ve made them hits,” Warren told Korem off-camera.

Good enough for Cher is good enough for us.

“Milli Vanilli” is currently streaming on Paramount+.

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