From the Morning to the Evening: House of Balloons 10th Anniversary
Draw the curtains and cuddle up with Molly
10 years after the party. The Weeknd’s House of Balloons, a turning point in contemporary R&B, signaled a pivot in the early 2010’s that t from the warm, welcoming sound of love we had been hearing from popular R&B artists to a more dangerous seduction. Who doesn’t like a little risky sex?
House of Balloons, a mixtape made with the effort and attention of a proper studio LP, was made for the night. Not the kind of night spent rocking bottle service at the club. No, this album is an invitation to the little carnival of drugs and sex going down in the house down the block — a night with a new lover complete with pre-party anticipation of the upcoming freakiness and the regret of having revealed too much of yourselves by the end of the night, or beginning of a new morning.
I recognize that I was 29 when I discovered The Weeknd in spring of 2011. Some early fans were listening to this mixtape while getting ready for their AP World class or while they pre-partied for the actual weekend. House of Balloons was the soundtrack to my Vegas trips for the year and some change, most of which I took with my then girlfriend/now wife. His music was built for that city. If you have any doubts, then watch the video for “Blinding Lights”. Yeah, that is today’s version of the The Weeknd doing what he’s been singing about for the last decade. The pull of the lights; the draw of the party, but with an edge.
From the opening track, “High for This”, it was clear (then) that this wasn’t going to be like listening to The Dream or Trey Songz. Nothing against saying “aaaaahhh”, but The Weeknd was going to invoke the spirit of the kind of party where you wear a mask while you have sex with a stranger. Casual. People behave differently while on drugs, but that’s the point, right? The Weeknd calls us out: “You don’t know what’s in store/But you know what you’re here for.” Oh snap! Things just got interesting. Sing on, Abel, about the virtues of making sure that you’re high enough to enjoy the experience because that’s the only way to touch the night sky.
The brilliance of this mixtape isn’t in the individual songs but in the feeling that the collection evokes when you listen to it in its entirety, which I guess a lot of folks don’t really do these day, or even those days in the “before times”. Yeah, there were a couple of jams that were radio-friendly enough to get some run on the So Cal airwaves, but this project is best ingested all at once. Ingest it like that, and ride the wave from the moment the drugs kick in — when you get the “warm and fuzzies” and pull up the cozy “What You Need” — through the peak with “The Morning” and “Wicked Games” and into the come down. The Weeknd lays out the path for you and recognizes that 70% through the mixtape you should in fact be “Coming Down”, so let’s lament about it together.
Where The Weeknd began his career with House of Balloons (and the following two entries in Trilogy) — identity obscured by mystery, brooding and vulnerable — is not where he’s at now, making songs with Ed Sheeran and Daft Punk (RIP) and starring in the Super Bowl Halftime Show. The Canadian singer went full trajectory with the “American Dream”, becoming a world-famous star from an unknown artist, and doing it his own way. Impressive.
On this 10th Anniversary, we have been blessed with the original version of the mixtape, complete with all the samples that weren’t cleared for the Trilogy release. Do yourselves a solid and give it a listen. This version feels like the truest representation of who The Weeknd is no matter how far from the 6 he travels. He’ll always find his home back at the House of Balloons.
Cali was the mission? Consider it accomplished.