The Unlikely Story And Untimely Death Of The Greek Folk Singer Pantelis Pantelides
Pantelides captured Greece with his music; his success was unplanned and unpolished.
“In a parallel universe, this would have been a genius manager’s perfect plan. But it wasn’t.” A series of fortunate events, grounded in a misunderstanding led to the triumph of a man next-door in Greek pop culture. This is what Smaragda Alexandri a.k.a. Sma Rag Da, a Greek musician and scholar at the University of Westminster in London concluded on the subject of Pantelis Pantelides, after rigorous academic research for the purposes of her academic research.
His star shone bright, and fast. He went from YouTuber to first name in Athenian nightlife in the blink of an eye. His videos of himself signing his music in his bathroom quickly hit over 4 million views, and he was signed by Minos EMI. This record label has carried some of the most important Greek artists, from classic folk legends to trend-setting pop icons; Grigoris Bithikotsis to Sakis Rouvas.
Sma Rag Da Alexandri had an insider’s curiosity about the Pantelides phenomenon. She is a musician herself, and decided him to investigate for her dissertation. “The first time I heard his music I was on holiday. It was one of those lazy afternoons when my friend said “Listen to this guy! He got dumped by a girl and uploaded this song on YouTube to release his kapsoura!” I saw a chubby run-of-the-mill guy singing in his bathrobe, in his bathroom. His genre is far from my favourite, but something about his lyrics touched a chord.”
“Kapsoura” is a term defining the heartache of unrequited love that won’t let you go. A common theme in Pantelides’s songs, and indeed his entire genre, he had a knack for communicating it and “approached it from many angles. He wrote about his own experiences, but also his friends’. There is at least one song that will make you think “I’ve felt exactly that!””
Her curiosity was sparked. In the following months his popularity shoot up, and Alexandri was keen to find out why. Why this shabby not-so-chic artist was going viral? She interviewed his collaborators and fans, and based her claims on the sociology and psychology of pop culture.
“His music does not differ significantly from others of his genre. His lyrics, however, present the listener with a rare, illustrative immediacy. He doesn’t talk about his feelings in general, he paints a picture. His language is simple and his message clear. He is at a bar where he and his ex used to go, when he sees her walk in with another man. There is a story, and to human beings, stories are addictive. That makes his music accessible and relatable. He was younger than other songwriters of the genre, and his music was influenced from 1990’s pop. It resonated better with the youth’s hearings. It could be danced to in a club or sang along to in a house.” Soon, it was playing everywhere.
This was only a facilitating factor in his fame, not a catalyst. He actually was the man next-door, not presented as such by his advertisers. He lived an un-extraordinary life and had a job that payed. He started playing at his friend’s venue, and his friend suggested he uploaded his music on the internet just to be safe from copyright infringement.
“He didn’t even bother to do that himself, his friend did it for him. Because he wasn’t looking for clicks, he didn’t pay attention to the production of the videos. He shot them in his own house, wearing whatever. This led to a misunderstanding that the best managers would dream of fabricating.”
Everyone saw a man opening his house and his heart, screaming to the world about his pain. His appearance helped. “A relatively good-looking guy you’ve seen countless times on the street, mixed with the image of your dad lounging around the house in a white t-shirt.”
“In Pantelis we loved the authenticity, something we had never seen in another artist,” his Athens Fan Club explained. “He was one with the people, he didn’t distance himself. Most people try through reality TV. He chose the the simplest way to become famous.”
This perception of honesty and acquaintance was well-timed. When Pantelides broke out in 2013, the economic crisis had laid bare the deep problems of Greece for everyone to see. “People had had enough of airbrushed celebrities with salon hair. Especially within the genre, artists were always picture-perfect. This fakery was painstakingly contrasted to where ordinary lives were going.” Or, as his fans put it “Pantelis gave us hope for our dreams. Thanks to him we became stronger and believed in ourselves.”
“Without any planning, Pantelides made the perfect brand identity, at the perfect time.” More than music, he was selling a story. “The name did not spread through the radio, but word-of-mouth. Fans introduced others to his work, always repeating that this was a guy fuming out his kapsoura. When he made it big, people were happy for him. They had erected him and they felt like they knew him.”
He sold a story everyone bought into; even those not entrenched in this type of Greek pop liked him. “You couldn’t help but like him, even if you didn’t like his work. In a way, he gave people hope. His story was that of the little guy making it. Given the circumstance it was a story they wanted, needed to believe.”
“A manager would be crazy to try to change him.” During his time in the mainstream he remained the same loveable guy, making the same relatable music.
He was tragically killed in a car accident on the 18th of February 2016. What ensued was nationwide shock and mourning. More than 6,000 people attended his funeral, where he was celebrated as a national treasure.
To this day, his family, friends and fans claim that his death was not a simple accident, as the court has settled. As his fans explain, they believe the circumstances of the accident and the testaments given by the two women in his car are suspicious.
“Let us use common sense. When a rod of iron enters the car from the right side of the car, how is it possible that the driver, sat on the left side is harmed? In any case, the woman who claims was in the passenger’s seat suffered no injuries. The only thing that is certain is that the two women who were supposedly in the car made an agreement for the insurance compensation. After all, all of Greece knows what kind of people will they are. The truth will shine in the end.”
As tragic and untimely his death was, it sealed the myth before it could be tarnished. Maybe he would have been engulfed by the industry, maybe he would have held his ground. “We can’t know.” All we can do now is speculate, as his record label is cashing in on songs unreleased prior to his death and his grave is turning into a site of pilgrimage.
Smaragda Alexandri is taking lessons from the Pantelides phenomenon. “It shows how people yearn to consume more than just music, they are looking for a person and his history. He let us into his house, he was real. That is something artists need to do more of.”
His fanbase is still in love with him. “We organise events too, but the most important thing is that we listen to his music every day and we pass it on to our children.”