October 31, 2009
Welcome again to another edition of Brook Pridemore’s The Nineties-ist. This edition discusses 1990, how Milli Vanilli symbolizes our desire for authenticity, Mother Love Bone’s transformation into Pearl Jam, and links to a video of Paula Abdul as a Laker Girl. For earlier installments, go here.
By about 2002, it no longer seemed weird that most current pop music icons didn’t play their own instruments or write their own songs. There were a few golden years in the mid-90s (this is the real meat we’re going to get to in a couple weeks), in which it was cool for popular groups, to paraphrase Mama Cass, to make their OWN kind of music. You didn’t know anything about Pavement’s manager because there WAS no Malcolm McLaren behind Pavement. For those of us coming into our own in the mid-90s, there was a powerful lesson to be learned: you could speak or sing with your own voice, and people would hear it. When I was starting my first band in 1995, it was a sign of immaturity to include covers in your set – even a fifteen-year-old kid who’d been at it less than a year should have his own songs.
That ideology was nowhere to be found in 1990. Indeed, paralleling the guitar-god, fantasy lifestyle inherent in 80s metal, the 80s pop singer was not known for writing his or her own words. For example, Whitney Houston’s (in my opinion) greatest contribution to popular culture was her version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” The transitional steps between Paula the Laker Girl, to Paula Abdul the cartoon-duetting-pop-tart, to Paula Abdul the voice of reason on American Idol are not giant leaps. It was only a matter of time, then, until the “make your own noise” goodwill wore off and Lou Pearlman assumed his stranglehold on pop culture in the late 90s, with his string of largely interchangeable boy bands.
But what about a group that was so manufactured that the faces on the album cover weren’t even the voices you heard on the record? Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus, two German nightclub dancers, were discovered by impresario Frank Farian one night in 1988. Farian had already conceptualized a dance group called Milli Vanilli, going far enough to record an entire album worth of vocals called All or Nothing. Feeling that the singers he’d picked for the album lacked a marketable image, Farian hired Morvan and Pilatus to pose as the frontmen for Milli Vanilli. It was Morvan and Pilatus’ images that adorned the cover of All or Nothing (and it’s American counterpart, the six-times platinum Girl You Know It’s True), with no mention made of the real voices behind the record.
More on #7: 1990