Yes, I admit it.
Back in the day, I was a huge Milli Vanilli fan. I carried their Girl You Know It’s True record on cassette in my back pocket and proudly sing their songs to/from school. I even remember leading a chorus of kids at a playground once to sing the main hook in Blame It On The Rain at the top of our lungs with passion only seen in 80’s hair metal rock videos. I remember my freshman year getting flack from my bandmates about liking them when they saw the cassette j-card sitting on the music stand. Their blend of late 80’s hip-hop influenced r&b spoke to me so deeply that I knew nothing could top these guys.
Then, they infamously imploded. They were lambasted by everyone for lip synching to their own records for which the duo never even actually sang on. The most common reasoning was that they didn’t deserve to be praised because they weren’t “real singers”, “real musicians”, or even “real artists”. It was an incredible argument for me to overcome. All I kept saying (and still say to this day) was, “Yep. But the music itself is still awesome.”
Fast forward roughly 25 years later. The entire hip-hop/r&b world is plagued by the overuse of auto-tune both in the studio and live on stage. Let’s take my favorite whipping boy Kanye West:
When I listened to it the first time, I was like “Why are you trying to sing Kanye? Lord knows you can’t do it without a ton of auto-tune.” As an artist, he can do whatever he pleases, but as a concert go-er, why would I pay good money to fool myself into believing a performer can “sing”?
After watching the clip, I realized a few things:
Either audiences think that auto-tuning is perfectly acceptable to use if you can sing or they don’t care. These fans seem pretty happy.
Lip synching within the context of pop acts is a staple go-to. There’s no way a performer can execute intricate, complex choreography and sing at the same time while staying in tune and sounding like the recording. So, they cheat. The taste-makers have groomed the public to expect to hear something very similar to studio recordings and audiences have accepted it. Live performances, as much as I personally love them and love them for what they should be – spontaneous, energetic, organic interpretations of sterile studio recordings showcasing their artistry, are pretty much panned by the masses who are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to watch Britney Spears dance with a snake on her shoulders while walking a tightrope and singing flawlessly at the same time.
After watching this clip, I realized that Kanye is basically the millennial Milli Vanilli. He doesn’t “sing” his own songs (auto-tune does it) and he effectively lip synchs with his own tracks (again auto-tune does the real work). Yes, I am stretching the truth massively with this analysis.
Milli Vanilli as a unit had a team of producers, songwriters, and performers to provide the public entertainment. The wrong people got rewarded (Rob & Fab) and the public crucified them for being misled. That still doesn’t negate their artistry and being invalid. The music is still dope as hell and had it been marketed better, it would’ve most likely still won awards. If we take a look at Kanye’s approach, he’s just doing a modernized version of what the same thing. He has a team of writers, producers, and performers bringing a level of entertainment; however, he just markets everything he does as him doing it alone and the public buys the narrative.
I welcome to see MV make a comeback (RIP Fab). Hopefully Rob can make something happen so we can get a real follow up to that wonderful record.