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Designing Women S5 E14 Extra Sugar - Going Backstage on Music’s Biggest Scandals

Updated: Jan 29

Leave it to us to take an off-the-cuff Charlene pop culture reference and dive into alllllll the “Extra Sugar”. That’s JUST what we’re going to do this week. This time, we’re going lip syncing and major house fires. But, there’s plenty more musical scandals - so, cross your fingers we’ll get another reference once day!


Here are our sources, if you want to do a deep-dive of your own:



Come on y’all, let’s get into it! 




 

Transcript

Nikki: Hi, Salina.

Salina: Hey, Nikki.

Nikki: Hey, everyone.

Nikki: She was leaned up against the wall.

Nikki: Ah.

Nikki: Welcome to this week's edition of Extra Sugar.

Nikki: We're going to go backstage on scandals in the music industry.

Salina: Hey, y'all.

Salina: Whoops.

Nikki: Give her a second to read her face.

Nikki: So our tangent of the week in the cold open of this week's episode of designing women included a small bit about Millie Vanilli.

Nikki: The ladies even spelled the reference straight out for us.

Nikki: They lost their Grammy for lip syncing.

Nikki: But as with all things, the story is more complicated than that.

Nikki: And just one of many examples of scandal in the music industry, which is, incidentally, what we wanted to talk about today.

Nikki: I'm going to walk through the Millie Vanilli scandal of 1991, and I'm going to talk about one more music scandal with a southern twang.

Nikki: Girl, you know it's true.

Nikki: The music industry is full of talented people.

Nikki: Some of them just hold, just buckle up.

Nikki: Some of them even get credit for their talent.

Nikki: Studio performers Charles Shaw, John Davis, Brad Howell, and Jody and Linda Rocco were not among those who got credit for their talent, at least at first.

Nikki: But this story starts even a little earlier than that, when Rob Palatis met Fabrice Morgan during a dance seminar at a Munich club.

Nikki: And if that doesn't sound like the you, I don't know what does.

Nikki: I don't know what that sounds like.

Nikki: In between practicing the cabbage patch and the running man, I imagine they bonded, becoming fast friends, and then they tried to find work as backup singers in Munich.

Nikki: In the meantime, they signed a record deal at a small label selling a few thousand records.

Nikki: Not too long after that, producer Frank Farion learned about the duo and invited them into the studio to ask their opinion on the demo of girl.

Nikki: You know, it's true.

Nikki: They both liked it and said they could definitely sing it.

Nikki: He said, great, but let's skip that part.

Nikki: Let's just start performing shows next week.

Nikki: I'll worry about the whole getting it recorded part.

Nikki: This is crazy.

Nikki: This is crazy, right?

Salina: Yeah.

Nikki: So that began the, quote, total nightmare of a two year stint in Rob and Fabrice's life.

Nikki: As Rob would later describe it, Varian signed them to a contract on January 1, 980, which obligated them to record ten songs in a year.

Nikki: They would later say neither of them fully understood the conditions of the contract.

Nikki: Just five months later, in May, they were performing for crowds in their signature spandex shorts and long extensions.

Nikki: Rob and Fabrice said all along the way, they'd ask Frank when they'd actually be able to sing.

Nikki: And he placated them, telling them things like, yeah, but right now we need you to go out and do promotion.

Nikki: Of course you'll get to do it.

Nikki: Just work with us.

Nikki: So they continued to go along with it in the meantime, feeling like their time would come.

Nikki: And boy, did their time come.

Nikki: Girl, you know it's True was finally released to american audiences in 1988.

Nikki: The album produced five singles, which all entered the Billboard Hot 103 went to number one.

Nikki: The album was certified six times platinum in January 1990.

Nikki: It spent 41 weeks in the top ten of the Billboard top 278 weeks on the charts overall.

Nikki: This all culminated with their best new artist win at the 32nd Grammy Awards in 1990.

Nikki: Along the way, however, they had doubters.

Nikki: An executive at MTV said she first started doubting them when they visited the channel for an interview and had questionable english language skills, though that did not stop the music television juggernaut from launching a club MTV tour featuring Millie Vanilli, along with other heavy hitters like Paula Abdul and Tone Loke.

Nikki: It was at one of the shows that the first signs of lip syncing became really clear.

Nikki: While they would have been inclined to blame it on the rain, they actually had to blame it on the computers.

Nikki: During their performance of Girl, you know it's true there was a hard drive issue which caused the song to jam and Skip.

Nikki: Rob panicked and ran off.

Nikki: Stage.

Nikki: Host downtown Julie Brown eventually coaxed him back on stage, and it honestly seemed like nothing had happened afterwards.

Nikki: But Rob later shared that it felt like, quote, it was the beginning of the end for Millie Vanilli.

Nikki: Despite all this, possibly the most damning of all their issues was that, unlike the international release of the album, the american release explicitly attributed the vocals on the album to Rob and Fabrice.

Nikki: This was what prompted one of the original singers, Charles Shaw, to reveal to media in December 1989 that he was actually one of the vocalists on the album and that Rob and Fabrice were acting.

Nikki: However, producer manager Farian reportedly paid $150,000 to Charles to retract his statements, but the damage was done.

Nikki: By November 1990, Farian announced that he fired them and also confessed that they didn't sing on the albums.

Nikki: Shortly thereafter, they returned their Grammy.

Nikki: They gave a press conference for more than 100 journalists in Los Angeles, where they said they were willing to return their Grammy award.

Nikki: They also said that they had made a deal with the devil, and they sang and rapped for the room in order to prove that although they had not sung on the records, they could in fact sing.

Nikki: After this, the lawsuits rolled in it honestly feels like too many to go over.

Nikki: However, one of them that really just tweaked my melon was one in Chicago, Illinois.

Nikki: That's right, son in law reference.

Nikki: It was a proposed group settlement that would have refunded buyers of the records.

Nikki: Instead, though, the refunds were to be issued as credits to buy future releases by Arista artists.

Nikki: So it's like, sorry we conned you.

Nikki: Here, take some more of our music.

Salina: Do you know what I mean?

Nikki: It's just really felt icky and gross to me.

Nikki: I think it felt that way to someone, somewhere, maybe a judge.

Nikki: Because that settlement was declined and a new one was approved in August 1991, it refunded those who attended concerts and those who bought recordings.

Nikki: An estimated 10 million buyers were eligible to claim a refund, and they could keep the refunded recordings.

Nikki: So they still got their Milly Vanilli, but they got a little money, too.

Nikki: After the news broke that Rob and Fabrice weren't the actual singers on the album, their intended second album was repackaged and released, and it was attributed to a group called the Real Millivanilli.

Nikki: The group's only album, the Moment of Truth, was released in Brazil, Europe, Asia and New Zealand, and reached the top 20 in Germany.

Nikki: The Real Millivanilli also released three singles, one of which, keep on running, made it to number four on the german charts.

Nikki: While Rob and Fabrice stayed close together in the first few months and years after the breakdown of Millie Vanilli, they diverged a bit.

Nikki: Just a few years later, in 1991, just months after the scandal broke, they appeared in a commercial for carefree sugarless gum.

Nikki: And the commercial parodied the scandal.

Nikki: Do you remember this commercial?

Nikki: I don't.

Nikki: I feel like I vaguely remember it.

Nikki: They also played animated versions of themselves in an episode of the Adventures of Super Mario Brothers, and they signed with a pr firm hoping to become actors.

Nikki: They moved to LA together.

Nikki: No, I don't think so.

Nikki: I don't think so.

Nikki: They would only do things as, like, whatever the rebranding of Millie Vanilla is.

Nikki: No, I think they both wanted their own careers.

Nikki: They were just besties.

Salina: Okay.

Nikki: They moved to LA, signed with an entertainment group with Sandy Gallon as their manager.

Nikki: You remember Sandy?

Nikki: Good old Sandy.

Nikki: The real ones.

Nikki: Remember Sandy and Dolly Parton were business partners for many years.

Salina: Oh, okay.

Nikki: I was reading about Millie Vanilli and I was like, sandy, sandy just everywhere.

Nikki: He's everywhere.

Nikki: They recorded an album called Rob and Fab, but due to financial limitations, the album was only released in the US.

Nikki: And ultimately, after a lot of other limitations.

Nikki: The album only sold about 2000 copies.

Nikki: They insisted on releasing it in the US because they felt like that was their target market.

Nikki: And then I think the label didn't really push it very hard, so it didn't do so hot.

Nikki: They were next featured on VH one's behind the music in 1997.

Salina: Which.

Nikki: Do you remember this episode?

Salina: I think I do remember that episode.

Nikki: I watched the crap out of behind the music in like middle school and early high school.

Nikki: I'm a little bit astounded that it actually wasn't that far away from the scandal.

Nikki: I remember watching this episode feeling like I was watching a 30 year old scandal.

Nikki: It was six years at that point.

Nikki: Yeah, well, not very long.

Salina: Yeah, but it was almost half of your life.

Nikki: Wasn't it, though?

Nikki: I was so young.

Salina: Or pop up video.

Salina: Pop up video.

Nikki: Love that so much.

Salina: I was just aging ourselves left and right.

Nikki: There's a TikTok channel, or feed or whatever you call it, where the person does pop up videos for videos that haven't.

Nikki: That were too young for pop up video.

Nikki: Very funny.

Salina: Anywho, there's something for everyone.

Nikki: Vh one's behind the music.

Nikki: 1997.

Nikki: Around that time, they considered giving it another go and agreed to try another album.

Nikki: During the production, though, Rob encountered personal issues.

Nikki: He committed a series of assaults and robberies and was sentenced to three months in jail and six months in drug rehab.

Nikki: Just before the new album's promotional tour was to begin, he was found dead of a suspected alcohol and prescription drug overdose.

Nikki: He died in a hotel room in Frankfurt, Germany on April 3, 1998.

Nikki: His death was ruled accidental.

Nikki: Fab has continued working and it sounds like he has a really optimistic sort of approach to everything.

Salina: Yeah, I've seen him in a couple of interviews more recently.

Nikki: Yeah, I think he was really devastated by what happened to just the whole thing.

Nikki: I think really devastated him, but yeah.

Salina: And they felt taken advantage of.

Nikki: Very much so.

Nikki: To that note, I'll say a couple more things.

Nikki: Variety recently produced a feature documentary on the Millie Vanilli scandal called Millie Vanilli.

Nikki: I think it's available on Paramount.

Nikki: Plus, I'm pretty sure that's what I found when I researched it.

Nikki: I think this quote by the director may be what makes it worth watching.

Nikki: The truth of what happened is more bizarre than anyone knows.

Nikki: There are so many layers, characters and twists that have never before been revealed.

Nikki: So I didn't have a chance to watch it.

Nikki: But I did read a couple reviews.

Nikki: I think the thing that struck me the most was that one of the reviewers remembered the MTV concert mishap as being the downfall of Millie Vanilli, when, in fact, it went on much longer than that, and a lot of people knew what was happening.

Nikki: So in my research, I read, for instance, that the Grammys have a really long history of not allowing lip syncing of any kind during performances.

Nikki: But they had made a few exceptions.

Nikki: Just a few years before the Millie Vanilli controversy broke open, Janet Jackson threatened not to perform on the Grammys live telecast.

Nikki: So a longtime Grammy producer made the rare exception for her because she was so hot that they couldn't compromise losing her as a performer that night.

Nikki: So they compromised their stance on recognizing musical talent, and they allowed her to lip sync.

Nikki: That exact same producer is the one who made the exception for Millie Vanilli to lip sync at the Grammys the year they won.

Salina: So many questions about the Janet Jackson thing.

Nikki: Yeah, I didn't really look into that one.

Nikki: Yeah.

Salina: Why she would do that.

Nikki: It's not like I do feel like I read that and I don't remember now what it was.

Salina: Yeah.

Salina: It's just interesting because it feels like she is a proven vocal.

Nikki: So.

Nikki: Okay, let me wrap this up, and then I have something to say about that.

Nikki: In the end, of course, Rob and Fab took the fall, but like you just said, they felt taken advantage of because the machine was so much bigger than that.

Nikki: They just ended up taking the fall.

Nikki: This farian guy sounds like a real jerk.

Nikki: The producer who sort of conned them into all this, he is still making music and still producing things.

Salina: Of course he is.

Nikki: He sounds terrible.

Nikki: So, on lip syncing, I feel like with Janet, and I don't want to say this exactly, but I feel like she wanted to dance and didn't want to compromise the vocals because you cannot get out there and dance to any satisfactory level that people expect and also produce high quality vocals.

Nikki: Most of the time, there are some performers who have done it, but most of the time, you need a backing track or something.

Nikki: It's a lot.

Nikki: It's a lot to do.

Nikki: And, like, I've seen Miley Cyrus runs Miles on the treadmill while belting to train for concerts just so she can sound reasonable.

Nikki: I'm sure she uses a backing track, too, at points, because it's impossible.

Nikki: It's impossible.

Nikki: So I'm thinking that's what her issue was.

Nikki: And personally, I don't have an issue with backing tracks.

Nikki: Like, if you need a little support while you're.

Nikki: If you're giving me a great show, if you're Britney Spears and you are dancing your heart out.

Nikki: And I'm watching a fantastic show.

Nikki: I'll forgive some backing vocals, but it's more like the actual outright lip syncing like Rob and Fab were doing, where it's not even their voices coming out.

Nikki: That's a problem.

Nikki: And on that note, I found a list of lip syncing scandals in music history, and it is everyone from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears to Mariah to Beyonce to Whitney Houston.

Nikki: So these were all musicians with, like you just said, certified, proven musical chops.

Nikki: They just were taking a little extra help in live settings.

Nikki: So, for instance, you might remember Beyonce performing at President Obama's inauguration ceremony.

Nikki: She was clearly lip syncing and caught a lot of heat for it.

Nikki: She came out later and said she hadn't had the opportunity to rehearse with the marine band that was backing her.

Nikki: And so she just didn't feel good about the performance.

Nikki: Good enough to risk ruining what was a historic moment in american history.

Nikki: She took the help and took a pre recorded track.

Nikki: But we know Beyonce can sing.

Nikki: You know what I mean?

Salina: Sure.

Nikki: But I don't know that Millie Vanilli has ever actually been proven to have been that great that they were just accepting backing help or whatever.

Nikki: So it's sort of on its own.

Nikki: I can handle a backing track.

Nikki: That's my soapbox on lip syncing.

Nikki: That's not what we're here to talk about today.

Nikki: So then, like I said, I want to talk about one more musical scandal.

Nikki: And I really think this could have been like, this could be a podcast.

Nikki: This could be a podcast on musical scandal, and I would listen to it all day long.

Nikki: But the one I wanted to talk about actually has an unpretty connection to our hometown in Atlanta.

Nikki: So can we talk about that r1 quick?

Salina: Well, I thought you were going to.

Salina: Yes, and I thought you were going to say it had an unpretty connection to us.

Salina: And I was like, my God, no.

Nikki: To Atlanta.

Nikki: In 1994, the band TLC was on the precipice of enormous success.

Nikki: They were flying high after the 1992 release of ooh, on the TLC tip.

Nikki: I had to look that up multiple times because I thought it was a TLC trip.

Nikki: TLC Tip.

Nikki: However, they could never have anticipated the success that was yet to come with crazy sexy cool.

Nikki: Following its November 1994 release, that album would ultimately spend two years on the Billboard 200 and sell over 14 million albums.

Nikki: For context, both of those figures are incredibly impressive.

Salina: Two years is a long time, and it did feel like the songs from that album were just around forever.

Nikki: Not for me, because my neighbor stole my CD, but for other people, maybe.

Nikki: Is that the scandal it is unpretty connection to Atlanta?

Nikki: No.

Nikki: The success of that album is part of what makes this next tidbit almost mind blowing.

Nikki: During the recording and production of that album, one third of the trio, Lisa left Eye Lopez recorded her bits of the album during time she had approval to be released from rehab.

Nikki: The resulting album included significantly fewer vocals from her than originally intended.

Nikki: But in a band well known for their lack of tolerance of scrubs, why was she serving a stint in rehab before they had even reached the peak of their success?

Nikki: Well, it was because of a significant and potentially dangerous crime she'd committed earlier in the year right here in Atlanta.

Nikki: But to get there, you have to back up just a smidge to the time just after the waterfall release of their debut album.

Nikki: See, that's when Lisa met her baby, baby, baby.

Nikki: Andre Risen, an Atlanta falcon, a pro footballer.

Nikki: Their relationship was reportedly very passionate and very rocky from the get go a full year before Lisa found herself in rehab in September 1993, the two landed in a Kroger parking lot in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta.

Nikki: After a night of partying.

Nikki: Apparently inside the kroger, Risen assaulted Lopez.

Nikki: When two men tried to intervene.

Nikki: He told them to get the h*** out of there.

Nikki: Lopez ran outside and Risen returned to his car for a gun.

Nikki: When a woman offered Lopez a ride, he shot a warning shot into the wall of the store.

Nikki: Risen was charged with aggravated assault and freed on $16,500 worth of bond.

Nikki: Lopez was arrested for allegedly attacking a police officer.

Nikki: She was freed on a $1200 bond on a charge of obstruction.

Nikki: Less than a year later, in June 1994, they had both been out partying all night, separately.

Nikki: When Risen returned to his home in Alpharetta, Georgia, he found her screaming at him in the driveway.

Nikki: He said she started hitting him in the face.

Nikki: He admitted he slapped her, but to bring her too, which he said didn't work.

Nikki: He said he had no idea what was happening.

Nikki: According to reports, she was angry that he had bought himself a bunch of sneakers but didn't buy her any.

Nikki: They ultimately ended up inside the house.

Nikki: He said he had to slam her on the bed and sit on her to control her.

Nikki: When it was clear that the situation was unmanageable, he just left.

Nikki: He said he went on a 20 miles walk, which eventually led him to a teammate's house where he thought he'd ride out the storm.

Nikki: I read that so many times and just thought like 20 miles.

Nikki: That's a really long walk.

Nikki: But everywhere.

Nikki: While he was riding out the storm, she was throwing a pair of his tennis shoes into the bathtub and lighting them on fire.

Nikki: She then went outside and bashed the windshields of two of his cars with a vacuum cleaner pipe.

Nikki: While she was destroying the car, the $1.3 million house was burning down.

Nikki: The Wikipedia article about Lopez says that this wasn't the first time she'd done this.

Nikki: The first time it was a marble tub.

Nikki: So the fire didn't take over, but it did damage the tub.

Nikki: So when Ryzen had it replaced, he replaced it with a cheap fiberglass tub that melted down really fast and accelerated the fire.

Nikki: And I include that detail because that's one of those situations where I'm like, I wonder how many times he thought, what if I had just gotten another marble bathtub?

Salina: Should have gotten the upgrade on the bathtub instead of the 17,000th pair of shoes.

Nikki: Ultimately, Lopez turned herself into the Atlanta police and was charged with felony arson, but released on $75,000 bail.

Nikki: Approximately five days later, her lawyer announced that Lopez had voluntarily entered rehab.

Nikki: One final fun wrinkle to this chapter of her life with Ryzen was his later claims that she was no silly ho.

Nikki: He claimed she had been picked up by Tupac Shakura following the blaze.

Nikki: He believed they'd planned the fire together.

Nikki: Of course, despite the controversy, Lisa and TLC would go on to rule the pop and r B world with crazy sexy cool the next year and then fan mail a few years later.

Nikki: Unfortunately, as many people probably know, Lisa died tragically in Honduras in 2002.

Nikki: Her funeral was held in Lithonia, Georgia, and she was also buried there.

Nikki: Like I said, I was so far down the rabbit hole on this entire thing.

Salina: Well, I remember it happening, and that was such big news for people who lived in Georgia and especially, like, in the metro Atlanta area, there was a falcon player involved, someone who was so huge in the music industry, I don't think that the news landscape wasn't quite where it is today.

Salina: I think we were on the precipice, but we weren't quite there yet.

Salina: So when something like this hit, it was just really major.

Salina: The one thing I had never heard before was the incident at the Kroger, which, by the way, is very Atlanta.

Salina: Just that whole story, the whole thing being out partying all night, winding up at a kroger.

Salina: Someone's fighting.

Nikki: I was curious if it was disco Kroger or murder Kroger.

Nikki: I always forget where murder Kroger is.

Nikki: I'm pretty sure it was at disco Kroger.

Salina: Kroger?

Salina: Yeah, it would have to be.

Salina: Which doesn't exist either.

Salina: Yeah, they're now actually fancy Kroger's.

Salina: And Disco Kroger is called Disco Kroger because before that was there, there was a really famous nightclub there, Atlanta.

Nikki: Famous.

Salina: That's just for the people who don't know.

Salina: We weren't born then.

Salina: But I do know that because my mom used to go there when she was in high school with a fake id.

Nikki: I think it doesn't get more Atlanta than some of these, right?

Nikki: You might not have noticed the look on your face when I said silly ho.

Nikki: I'm not sure you noticed this, but I buried eight song titles throughout this segment.

Nikki: That's very nice.

Nikki: If you think you caught them all, I think you should shoot us an email or a social dm and you can win the sweet TNTV Pride prize this week.

Salina: Waiting to get mowed over.

Nikki: They're going to come in hot.

Nikki: You just wait.

Nikki: You just wait.

Nikki: I know somebody's going to do.

Salina: My dream would be to go in there and just have more dms than I could handle.

Nikki: She's so cynical, this one.

Salina: Well, it's been the holidays.

Nikki: Here comes the Pride prizers.

Nikki: They want it.

Salina: In the meantime, they're coming for me.

Nikki: You know where to find us at Sweet TeanTV.

Nikki: If you're trying to win the Pride.

Salina: Prize, you didn't even put in an obvious one like blame it on the rain.

Salina: And there's one thing they couldn't.

Salina: Blame it on the rain.

Nikki: You didn't hear me say no.

Nikki: Salina's not winning the Bride brides.

Nikki: She has not been listening.

Nikki: And there's clue number two.

Salina: Well, don't tell them.

Salina: Good Lord.

Nikki: Please leave us a rating or review wherever you get your podcast and make it five stars.

Nikki: Salina is mean to me.

Salina: I need this.

Nikki: Give me this.

Nikki: Win.

Salina: Told me.

Nikki: And with that pride prize, that's this week's extra sugar.


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