This song has been stuck in my head for like, two months now, I listen to it every few days, and I take every single chance I get to sing the chorus, preferably without context. But I keep coming back to the question: what is love? And more importantly, why doesn’t Haddaway ever tell us what love is? Does he not know? If you listen to the lyrics, he seems confused by it, as if he wrote the song to ask the early 1990s for help in answering one of the fundamental questions of the human experience.
For our purposes though, I think it’s a pretty good example of a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions, to quote my best friend in the world, Wikipedia, are “not posed to elicit a specific answer, but rather to encourage the listener to consider a message or viewpoint.” So Haddaway wants us to think about love, that’s fair.
Rhetorical questions can be useful when you’re trying to get your audience to think about something they might not be used to thinking about, and therefor can be a good tool for essays and other academic papers.
They do pose a risk though, in that when you ask a question of your readership, they might expect you to answer that question. I think the trick is to pose a question that seems like it has an obvious answer. Rhetorical questions should be reasonably broad. Overly specific questions can lead them to seek answers in your writing, which you may be trying to give them, but they’re going to want those answers to be clear and probably pretty soon after the question.
Rhetorical questions can be useful, but they can be tricky, too. Haddaway may not have chosen the right format, because generally I’m too busy bobbing my head and trying to figure out why he’s at a dance party in a vampire’s house, to really think about what love is.