Whoops I did it again

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.

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