A wise man, perhaps Giorgio Moroder (or maybe PT Barnum -- they all run together after a while), once said that it was possible to fool all the people all the time (or words to that effect), and if he was around in 1990, he would have used Milli Vanilli's multi-platinum, Grammy-winning, number one debut album, Girl You Know It's True, as proof. Hell, anybody would use Girl You Know It's True as proof, since the pretty boys that purported to be Milli Vanilli -- that would be Rob and Fab, the good-looking, ridiculously dreadlocked models on the cover -- didn't sing on the records. They weren't in the studio during recording, either; they just came in for photo sessions, videos, concerts, and award ceremonies. Anytime Milli Vanilli had to be before the cameras, there they were, since producer/songwriter/musician/all-around mastermind and mad genius Frank Farian knew damn well that nobody would want to buy the record after seeing him or the middle-aged studio vocalists that sang on the records. So, he did what any self-respecting Euro-dance producer would do -- made his record the best he could, then got somebody to act as frontman. Farian wasn't doing something unprecedented here, since there have been many acts throughout Europop history that either didn't sing or didn't sing well -- they were just figureheads. The problem is, he did this at a time when acts were more visible than they ever were. Ironically, at the end of the '80s, MTV changed the rules for mainstream pop, putting the emphasis on image and overall package, to the extent that major artists lip-synched in concert so they could deliver better dance routines. So, it really wasn't that extreme to have a group with two faces -- one to make the music, one to market it. And, face it, the fluffy dance-pop and slick ballads on Girl You Know It's True were of their time, hardly far removed from that of such peers as Paula Abdul, Debbie Gibson, or even the more substantive Janet Jackson. Audiences enjoyed the sound and the look, the entire package of Milli Vanilli. Until they found out that Rob and Fab weren't really singing, that is.
Sometime after Milli Vanilli unbelievably won the Grammy for Best New Artist -- really, who voted in all seriousness for Europop this silly as Best New Artist? -- Rob and Fab got a little pompous, so some journalists decided to take them down a peg, discovering that the duo were simply models. As soon as the news spread, America was shocked -- shocked, I tell you, shocked! -- that those pretty German boys weren't actually soulfully singing in flawless English on those impeccably constructed dance tracks, and immediately shunned the duo, burning the records in some cases. Which is sort of like gazing longingly at a Playboy centerfold and then being so horrified when you learn the photo is airbrushed, you lose all interest in sex. The fact is, with dance-pop (especially Euro-dance!), just like Playboy, artificiality is the name of the game, and that's what is good about it. It's the distinguishing characteristic, its identity, the core of its being. On that level, it's hard not to listen to Girl You Know It's True and marvel at the level of Farian's studiocraft, since it doesn't even sound like he programmed a computer to make this music; it sounds like something the machine wrote on its own accord. There are no natural sounds or human emotions on this record, just a bunch of shiny hooks and big beats, all processed and precisely assembled to be totally irresistible to a mass audience. And it was massively popular, no matter how many people denied owning the record after the news spread. And why shouldn't it have been? The height of the Bush era was a weird, giddy time, when the mainstream was filled with effervescent, transient pop, and nothing sums up that era as well as Girl You Know It's True. This isn't just music that's all surface, this is music that gives the impression of having a surface, then not delivering on that. It's thin as a ribbon, the beats are fairly clunky, the hooks are huge and stupid (apart from Diane Warren's "Blame It on the Rain," which is the only classically constructed song on the album), and, ultimately, really dorky. But what makes it fascinating is that it's unrestrained, unhinged dorkiness, music that is completely awkward and sort of fun and memorable because of it. No, there's not much here worth hearing outside of the five -- count 'em, five! -- Top Five singles, but it ultimately holds up better than the European counterpart, All or Nothing, which was padded with goofy Eurotrash fodder. And, years after the lip-synching hubbub, it's hard to imagine why there was such a fuss about an album so transparent, lightweight, and intentionally disposable. Then again, listening to it now, you can't believe that anyone thought Rob and Fab were really singing, since not only do the voices not match the picture on the cover, but they don't match any picture at all. But when it comes down to it, this music is so manufactured, it doesn't sound like anyone is really singing. And that's what's sort of cool about it.