House Of Balloons Turns Five: A Reflection On The Weeknd’s Groundbreaking Debut
The Weeknd. In 2016, Abel Tesfaye is universally embraced as a newfound darling of mainstream music thanks to his pop-geared, yet still edgy enough to instill exciting thrills for the parents album Beauty Behind The Madness. The fame and industry acceptance are honors The Weeknd has earned, but today is not being celebrated for these impressive achievements. Today is about recognizing the journey that began on March 21st, 2011…the day House Of Balloons was released.
As someone who has been fully immersed in The Weeknd’s ascent over the past five years, there is an itching feeling of nostalgia surrounding this milestone date. With a passionate and devoted following since the days when no one knew his face, The Weeknd of 2011 represents a life-changing era for those of us who would make 65 Spencer a mandatory stop on a visit to Toronto. The lead-up to House Of Balloons is a story still near and dear to our hearts. How an Ethiopian kid from Scarborough, Ontario was able to draw the attention of Drake and OVO, then go on to release a groundbreaking debut as an unknown identity only strengthened the allure to The Weeknd’s inventive style and raw talent. A magical appearance of an angelic voice delving into the darkest corners of a cold world fueled by overindulgence, unfiltered depictions of lustful desires, and contrasting emotions of regret/pain vs. confidence/conviction put listeners under an inescapable spell powered by its euphoric ingredients.
And while everything from the visual aesthetic of the XO brand to being uncompromising in how Abel’s vision would be executed from the get-go was conducted with skill, House Of Balloons is still regarded as one of the best albums of this decade because the quality of the music exceeded the eagerness behind its Internet hype. From the first minute of The Weeknd recognizing his mystique and setting expectations ‘You don’t know what’s in store, but you know what you’re here for/Trust me girl, you wanna be high for this’ on the powerful intro “High For This” to the deeper than your typical break-up song “The Knowing”, the devastating come-downs and blissful climaxes throughout the 9-track collection croon into the depths of one's soul in a remarkable fashion.
With widely respected producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo on his side, The Weeknd’s vivid tales of dissipation resonated over a state-of-the-art soundscape, a quintessential sonic realm with a downcast mood and atmospheric nature that proved to be a perfect home for Abel’s Arabic-influenced melisma and seducing falsetto. The freedom and innovativeness behind their creative process unveiled itself on two-part, unconventionally sampled epics such as “House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” and “Loft Music”, while his potential of being a festival-headlining artist was showcased on commonly categorized fan-favorites “Wicked Games”, “What You Need” and “The Morning”, all of which boasting masterfully executed hooks with evocative lyrics perfect for after-party, or more private morning-after gatherings. On a mission to craft his own his genre by incorporating several unique influences such as Beach House, The Weeknd accomplished exactly that on House Of Balloons and the experimental risks he took resulted in a forward-thinking body of work that still soars to this day in its addictive, fervid replay value.
On a personal level, House Of Balloons is one of the most important albums in my possession and I know many out there share the same sentiment. This mixtape was not only the soundtrack of my late college years (proving to be quite relatable during that period of time), it sparked my interest in music beyond the standard dose of hip-hop/R&B. With no fear of being different, the boldness of House Of Balloons captivates me to this very day and I have no shame in declaring that I will forever be grateful for its existence. So while as a music journalist it is incredible to witness how The Weeknd has influenced and inspired some of today’s biggest artists, as a fan it is much more special to recognize how I’ve grown with The Weeknd since this day five years ago. House Of Balloons used to be our little secret (shout out KTT) and now The Weeknd is a Grammy/Oscar-winning artist…the progression is inspiring to say the least.
Who knows what the future holds for Abel. Since 2011, the great memories involving The Weeknd’s music have continued to stack up for me, with Cash (his manager) bringing my girlfriend and I to the VIP section (standing right in front of Lamar and Bella Hadid…) of the Beauty Behind The Madness show in Boston being particularly surreal. But ultimately, every story starts on page one and House Of Balloons was The Weeknd’s groundbreaking entrance to the world that changed everything. You may be used to his face and the mystery may have faded, but The Weeknd is forever legendary for the magnum opus that is House Of Balloons. Thank you Abel for making history on this day five years ago…House Of Balloons will live on and forever be cherished.
What a ride.