Finding Catharsis in Nicole Dollanganger’s “Angels of Porn II”

Content warning for mentions of sexual assault, eating disorders, and some personal PTSD experiences involving intrusive thoughts and panic attacks.

I know I am having a bad mental health day when I get the song “Angels of Porn II” stuck in my head. Panic will start to bubble up, clawing beneath my skin with a sudden ferocity – like an animal that had been trapped for months, but only just realized it had no food and needed desperately to get out.

Inevitably, my head will start to sing.

My bedroom smells like rotten food and I guess so do I/it’s harder to be good in here than it is to starve and die.”

Or, it’ll go like this – I have a tendency to anxiously pick at my scalp, which leads me to think about the second verse.

My hair is falling out again and I don’t really care/I try to stir my conscience; it was never really there.

That verse isn’t really about trichotillomania, but it’s my song now, echoing in my thoughts. It’s reflecting my experiences, and it’s become my personal anthem.

In case you couldn’t tell, “Angels of Porn II” is not a great anthem to have for yourself. It’s a brutal, unsettling song that ruthlessly explores the physical and emotional toll that recovering from an eating disorder has. There’s a sexual aspect to the lyrics – not erotic, exactly, but unpleasantly sexual, tinged with abuse and anxieties about the body. References to stained bed sheets could be about either vomit or sex, and the line is intentionally blurred.

Presumably, the “angels of porn” are meant to be the sexualized, skinny, and impossible people who exist in pornography and overly-eroticized ad campaigns. People who you compare yourself to and want to be like, no matter the cost. And though you pray to be like them, the perspective shifts and the song reveals that they’ve been nailed to the floor, trapped in the same impossible loop as you. Destined to have your body consumed as a sex object, and destined for pain. (At least, that’s how I’ve always interpreted it.)

There have been many songs by hardcore artists that have been touted as the most brutal, the most visceral, or the most wicked; none of those have ever come close to hitting me in the way Nicole Dollanganger’s soft voice straining against the swelling instrumentals as she sings about fingers getting shoved down her throat.

That particular lyric goes like this:

Your fingers up inside of me feel like fingers down my throat.

– a comparison that makes the most sense in the world to me, as someone who has dealt with both bulimia and intense sexual anxieties. If you get it, you get it, and it hurts. But the next line really delivers the final gut pinch.

Everything is fine in heaven/but I’ll never get to know.

When I got to that particular stanza, the first time I heard this song, I knew it was a song that would never ever leave my mind. It all made sense to me, in a way that deeply hurt yet deeply relieved me. Guilt is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I feel guilty for hurting myself, for starving myself, and most of all, I feel guilty about my own sexual assault. All these things make me feel like a bad person, destined for hell and deserving of every ounce of mental distress I’ve ever had.

So, to hear something that succinctly tackles that feeling – that feeling like you are eternally plagued by sex and body image; and conversely, eternally doomed for daring to be pained by those things – was viciously validating.

Now to circle back to how this song lodges itself in my head constantly when I’m dipping into my worst habits. Being reminded of these subject matters constantly, having my mind forcing this tune about self-destruction and overwhelming guilt and helplessness – that’s awful, right? Wouldn’t that make me hate the song? But weirdly, it comes as a comfort to me. When I mentally revisit these lyrics, it grounds me, in a way. I have always had trouble with repetitive intrusive thoughts, and by sheer accident, this beautiful and aching song has replaced the usual iterations of negative thoughts that like to spiral and circle down the drain of my consciousness.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the song is curing all my anxieties or fixing me or anything like that. I don’t really think any one piece of art can have that kind of power, and it’s naive to think it could. Still, “Angels of Porn II” and the entirety of the album Natural Born Losers are a great source of catharsis for me. On paper, it should be deeply triggering and something I should avoid at all costs, but in practice? It’s been helpful in allowing me to divulge some of my worst thoughts in a controlled, healthy way. And that’s definitely pretty dang important.

Oh, and also – “great lakes full of cum/extracted from everyone” is the best lyric ever.

You can listen to “Angels of Porn II” below – note that there is another, more stripped down version of the song on Dollanganger’s earlier album, Observatory Mansions. That version is also great, but I’m partial to the Natural Born Losers version myself. Other stand-out songs from the album include “Poacher’s Pride,” “You’re So Cool,” and “Alligator Blood.”


P.S. I made a ko-fi so if you feel so inclined, here’s my lil tip jar.

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