You won’t see this on your SATs

Remember the analogy questions on the SATs? They were usually structured thusly:

Sleep is to bed as urinate is to _______.

A) Sink
B) Toilet
C) Bathtub
D) Off a balcony, but only if you are in college and drunk

Maybe not as much with the potty humor, but that was the general structure.

Analogies were always my favorite part of the SATs. Using them as a rhetorical device that could be used to both build rapport, and make muddy concepts clear held a lot of attraction to me, and still does. The phrases “That’s like…” and “It’s similar to…” are probably uttered by me at least once a day, and I shudder to think how many times they’ve cropped up in my writing.

Little surprise then that the following tumbled out of my mouth during the Grammys last week: “You know, Britney Spears is the Nirvana to Christina Aguilera’s Pearl Jam.”

Sure, there was wine involved. But stick with me for a moment, and cast your mind back before the head-shaving, the hyperbole, the assless chaps, and the worship of the Who, (respectively) to the early days of the career of each artist.

Both Britney and Nirvana were the first horses out of the gate, though they were clearly not in for the long haul. Though Nirvana had a very fine first album prior to its breakthrough, both seemingly came from nowhere and re-oriented music culture for the next few years, creating imitators in their wakes, and had an influence that went beyond the charts. It extended to fashion, mass media, and the way those that heard their music thought of themselves. Both Nirvana and Britney functioned as arechtypes, and spurred others to pursue something larger than themselves, whether it was an artistic statement, or music as a means to fame (without Britney, there is no American Idol, period).

Christina Aguilera and Pearl Jam seemed to follow their predecessors, though they’d been following similar paths all the while, and suffered only for timing. Both found themselves grow increasingly uncomfortable with the way fame and image seemed to dictate what kinds of art they could create and, in response, they released albums that almost dared some in their audience to continue to call themselves fans (Vitaology in PJ’s case, Stripped in Christina’s). Later, they came to terms with both their art and image, to emerge as more than survivors, but as the gold standard of their respective movements.

Now, I know some of the above might be taking things a bit far. Particularly that bit about the “gold standard” though I dare you to name any other teen popster whose albums you’d rather listen to than one of Aguilera’s, and dare you to deny that Nirvana is more about what they represent than what they’ve achieved (and before you answer, which did you find yourself pulling from your collection more recently: a Foo Fighters album or a Nirvana album?).

In any case, like the SATs, this isn’t about the perfect answer, it’s about picking the best answer.

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