My favourite moment this week: after being asked if he liked Thai food, an American said to me:
I don’t know, but I’ve been to Taiwan briefly and it looked ok, so I guess so….
But that’s an aside.
What inspired me to put finger to keyboard today was the story going around about the forthcoming Milli Vanilli biopic in production as I type.
I’m intrigued by the MV story. The manufacturing of the pop group is one thing, there is an art form just in that – in this case thank Frank Farian, who pulled it off, using the same formula he’d perfected in the past. It’s an established part of the pop machine, it has been for decades and the charts, across the world are full of such records.
But what intrigues me much more is the way American pop industry reacted with such self righteous indignation to the fact that Milli and Vanilli (ok let’s be fair: Rob and Fab, and the endgame to their story is very sad) were a manufactured group who perhaps did not sing on their own records. Witness the quote from the director:
I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of fakes and frauds, and in this case, you had guys who pulled off the ultimate con, selling 30 million singles and 11 million albums and then becoming the biggest laughing-stocks of pop entertainment
Which in a way sums it all up: the quote is idiocy. The fakes and frauds bit does not concern me, it’s the line “pulled off the ultimate con” which really raises a smile. Perhaps I’m being a little smug here but Milli Vanilli did absolutely no such thing. The truly intriguing part of this story is the way the Americans (the industry, the media, and the public) somehow were unable to see what was glaring obvious to the rest of the world, from the toppermost (to use a word coined by that decidedly un-manufactured, despite the collarless suits, artist, John Lennon) record exec to the most naïve squealing ten year old fan: that not only were these guys a complete pre-fabricated facade, but every indication was that they had very little if anything to do with their records. And so what. Who sang on The Crystals records, certainly not the girls. Who played virtually everything on The Beach Boys surf classics, and for that matter, Pet Sounds? Answer: not the “band”.
We all sniggered knowingly as they were awarded a Grammy, and shook our heads in bemusement as they were lauded as the next big thing (a soul act no less), selling some thirty million records in the process. Then came the big crash, the stripping of the award, the incredible furore, the anger and indignation, the cancelled tour, the bloody (and only in America) Class Action Lawsuits, for god’s sake. The American chat shows began to mock the group relentlessly, as did the likes of Weird Al Yankevich, without, to this day, realising that the joke was completely on themselves.
From time to time I smile at it all. And I bet Farian does too – he got to bank the cheque regardless of what happened in the USA, as everybody tried to point the blame at someone else, refusing to accept, or even see, that they were all responsible. There is some irony, watching a multi-billion dollar industry, beset with arrogance and self-belief, humiliate itself so badly in front of the whole planet, as it did. Hadn’t the name Boney M on Frank Farian’s CV set any bells off? It seems not. And I bet The Village People made their own records, yeah? Let’s face it, in an industry that has perfected beautifully the art of manufacturing imagery and idols who exist primarily to extract money from the masses, and whose real talent doesn’t go beyond photo-geniality, the level of naivety evident in the reaction to MV was incredible.
And I imagine these same people still think American Idol is “real” – and Britney has played a part beyond providing a vocal track to be heavily digitally enhanced in “her” music, despite more recent claims to have “co-written and co-produced” recent releases.
If it wasn’t for the tragedy surrounding one of the faces of MV this would be funny.