We need more forgiveness in society right now, and a good place to start is with these two mocked and ridiculed performers—who got a taste of fame, followed by a lifetime of shame.
An older generation knows about Marni Nixon, who sang parts offscreen behind many of Hollywood's "stars." For example, it's certainly not Natalie Wood singing in "Westside Story," it's Marni Nixon. The list is so long it's now legendary, although Nixon was sworn to secrecy, and threatened with being black-balled if she revealed the secret.
I've heard Wood's actual effort for "Westside Story," and I'm thankful for Marni Nixon . . .
Mr. Gioia, I think you nailed it when you point out that their most heinous crime was making the Grammy voters (and fans) look foolish. For an actual criminal offense one is entitled to a trial, may serve a punishment, can be "rehabilitated". For the wounding of pride there is no such path to forgiveness.
I remember the Milli Vanilli scandal - At that time I was a callow youth, secure in my belief that all pop music was garbage anyway, but I do recall thinking the whole affair was a tempest in a teapot. Years later when Pilatus died it struck me as quite tragic that a young man's life was literally destroyed because the artifice of his short-lived stardom was the WRONG KIND of artifice. His family and friends lost a loved one in the prime of his life, and I suspect that all of the people who orchestrated the charade never lost a minute of sleep over it.
Thank you for this thoughtful essay.
Beautifully articulated! Thank you for your writing, the heart shown is why I keep coming back to your substack.
My wife and I perform as a piano-guitar jazz and pop duet. Lots of chord melodies that we arrange for ourselves. If we can't play it between the two of us live, we leave it out. No loops or tracks. We are quite dedicated to developing our chops or writing ability, sans any electronic aids. Having said that, the world is a mighty big place and there's room for lots of acts. It's not for me to judge what is acceptable performance and what is not. Anyone who's ever had the spunk to put themselves out there on a stage is alright by me. I always felt bad for MV because they were actually decent singers, not a couple of completely talentless schmucks. A friend of mine, Steve Isham (Autograph) once admonished me when I disparaged an artist for lip-synching. "Anyone who makes it in music has come a long way and been through a lot. Take it easy on them." He was right.
I read part os this essay out loud to my wife, as we drove home in the car today. We got into the most wonderful argument that ended with her saying, “This guy’s argument is shit. They didn’t sing the songs and didn’t deserve the Grammy.” I asked her if she had some pent up rage from the event. She waved me off.
I am with you, Ted. I always felt that those two men were given a raw deal. After all, the band’s name was Milli Vanilli, not the singers’ names. Is there any difference in the pageantry or spectacle because of who sang the song? What matters most is how the music made people feel and ten million people feeling good from music is always a good thing.
Please donate to the Ashley Simpson Memorial Career Fund. Thank you.
Ted said it one sentence: they were punished for embarrassing the Grammys who gave them the award. Rob and Fab were just fall guys, who took the blame for a crime produced and perpetuated by others, who could only see the money they could rake in.
I would say the big difference between Milli Vanilli and the other you mention is that Cosby did tell his stand up comedy. Spector actually produced those records. Their crimes were not part of their art. Had Milli Vanilli won best music video or best choreography that would have been different.
Maybe the producer should be behind bars. It’s hard enough for an artist to break through while the machine creates avatars. I feel sorry for Ashley Simpson (an actual singer) whose career was destroyed. Not my decision alone to make unfortunately. The public made that decision.
There is no reason for anyone in the year 2022 to still bear a grudge against Milli Vanilli. The fact that the public faces of the band didn't perform on their recordings has zero to do with the quality of those recordings -- and they were hardly the first band to be a studio creation with unrelated public faces. Fortunately, the music business has become more purified and artist-driven since 1988!
While I agree that this world needs more forgiveness, I can't get behind the idea of awarding (or re-awarding) a Grammy to Rob and Fab for a performance that they did not perform. Michael Jackson was clearly a troubled person and the evidence supporting the claims that he molested children is overwhelming. We definitely should be having tough conversations about how we perceive such an artist moving forward.
None of that has anything to do with giving Milli Vanilli back a Grammy, or even forgiving them.
Forgiveness is one thing, and I agree that they deserve that. Rob and Fab are two people who got used by the entertainment industry, and for that they should be more sympathetic figures. But if we're gonna start awarding Grammys to every star-crossed kid who was chewed up and spit out by the music business, we're gonna need more than one awards show a year.
Forgive them, yes. Give them back the Grammy? I just can't see any legitimate path to give a Grammy to two people for a performance that they didn't actually perform. We can riff on the state of pop music, look at others who lip sync'd, we can discuss the merit of holograms, and stars who were legit terrible people, but the cold hard fact that is as inescapable as "Girl You Know It's True" was in 1989, is that Rob and Fab simply didn't perform the song. If we're going to give them an award for Best Dance Performance or something like that, fine.
I just can't see why we'd want to give out an award highlighting the performance of a musical piece to two people who didn't perform on it.
The Grammys are already at a nadir of cultural relevance, are we just handing out statues to anyone who was in the room? Who else gets one? What about legit artists who should have won, or been acknowledged for their contributing performances but did not? Or those that actually have won? Talk about watering things down.
Oh boy! I respect this opinion but take issue with it. My position is simple, Michael Jackson wasn’t accused of not singing on his albums, if he did and defrauded Sony music and deceived the record company, they could've and should’ve taken legal action. I guess a similar query would be, should a person who marginalizes a group of people off the “clock,” be in danger of losing their job? Is it possible to judge a politician for instance, based on what they did, vs. what they said? If I yell fire in a crowded space, should I be responsible for the ensuing chaos? We have to establish intent, correct? A drunk driver may get a lighter sentence because he didn’t intend to run over that child. But we can all agree that MAYBE that person should be held accountable.
I've read all your books... loved you for years... but for a music guy to miss the point by such a wide margin is disappointing. So many "artists" are wife-beaters, girlfriend-beaters, rapists, muggers, murderers (and some non-rap artists as well). But because singers today often lip-synch doesn't get MV off the hook. At least they're lip-synching to their OWN music. MV were complete fakers. They didn't MAKE any music. Naturally, a Grammy for making the best music would have to be rescinded if it was found that they didn't make any music at all, but someone else did. Music, even today, is a lot more than just an opportunity to pose in cool clothes. And any time we look behind the scenes (I've read a thousand music bios) we will find lots of reasons to hate the artists we formerly loved because they were no-good pricks. But they made music.
Interesting read! The fact that they wanted to sing and could actually sing is something that is always left out. Business interests ruining art at its worst!
We are living in the lowering of the bar generation. Yes, Millie Vanilie were before their time by lowering the bar before it became fashionable. That doesn't mean we should be ok with it
We may need more forgiveness in society right now, but that is forgiveness between people, not forgiveness for transgressions against art.
We don't need forgiveness for what may have been a lesser crime against art. We need stricter attention and punishment for the greater, ongoing crimes against art in the music industry today!