At first, this song seemed pathetic to me, but after listening to it hundreds of times, I think it’s not that simple of a pathos.
It should be noted that I don’t see anything wrong with being pathetic. I even don’t feel like logos or ethos should be prioritized over pathos in understanding a literary work, although many people would disagree. From a reader standpoint, pathos only works when we can relate to the images conjured up by the text, which also means that the effectiveness of pathos depends a lot on the contexts of reading.
Shakira’s Illegal, however, doesn’t serve the function of making us cry, for its mourning is so melodramatic that everybody can tell it’s merely acting. Everything about Illegal is so blatantly expressed that no one bothers condemning it as pretentious.
The lyrics about a woman’s heartbroken story couldn’t be clearer, and Shakira’s voice conveyed it quite well. She starts her first line with a small amount of breathy accentuation that seemingly appears out of nowhere, and when it comes to the next verse, she changed it into a sort of Cranberries-like throaty sound, her signature style, which adds in a sense of escalating anger.
Of course it’s pathetic, but it’s clearly such a feigned patheticness, so it may somewhat brings about the effect similar to that of ancient Greek dramas in which every emotion is exaggerated so as to satisfy the audience’s insatiable appetite for catharsis. In other words, listening to Shakira’s Illegal, to some people, is seeking pleasure in feigning an acute expression of pain, especially in today’s emotional labour world.
Or maybe that’s just how I see it, after 14 years since its release. This has been still the Shakira’s song to which I listen most often so far.