A Look Back at The House of Balloons


Image courtesy of Pitchfork

Anthony Millan, Staff Writer

On March 21st, 2011, The Weeknd burst onto the scene with his debut mixtape, House of Balloons. This release was littered with many questions and left many fans confused. Who was the Weeknd? Is it a band? Why is Drake blogging his music? All that was known is that the music spoke for itself – House of Balloons was instantaneously regarded as a masterpiece.

The project stood out amongst other R&B releases at the time due to its atmosphere being significantly darker than most. From the beginning of the album, it is made clear that the character the Weeknd embodies is extremely shallow: encouraging drug use, telling women he is the one they need, and forcing everyone to believe they’re having fun at this party being held at the house of balloons. He alludes to being a broken man, and that he may only feel alive at these parties, considering himself no one after they’re over. 

Consisting of two main producers – illangelo and Dom Mckinney – a consistent atmosphere is held throughout the project sonically. From the harsh, brass instrumental of the song High For This, to the hard-hitting guitar of Wicked Games, the instrumentals are perfect encapsulations of the lyrics at hand. Over the course of the project, the occasional use of samples helps capture the intended emotion of each song, most notably on “House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” (HOB / GTG). 

“House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls” is often considered the Weeknd’s magnum opus, and that is not without reason. Before the contents of the song are even discussed, it has to be noted that the sample used in HOB / GTG is “Happy House” by Siouxsie and the Banshees – a song about forcing oneself to believe they are happy in this “happy house,” by repeating the phrase, “we’re happy here”. With this context in mind, the chorus of “Happy House” is sampled as the chorus of the first half of HOB / GTG. The first half, titled House of Balloons, is about forcing himself and the others at his party that it’s not a disastrous drug-fest used to forget about the issues they have to face in the morning (this is furthered by the next song being named “The Morning” about the after-effects). He tries to throw a party to be the man he wants to be, however when no one is enjoying it, he throws the blame at everyone else reminding them they wanted to have fun as much as he does. In the latter half of the song, Glass Table Girls, the Weeknd reverses his role from the victim to the antagonist, symbolic of when he’s on drugs and no longer his true self. This half of the song is much bolder, much more narcissistic, than the former half and is reminiscent of who the Weeknd wants to be, and why he throws the parties to forget who he is when the morning hits. This song is the perfect example of the Weeknd at his peak musically, but at his lowest point emotionally. 

This character remains at the forefront for the rest of the record, constantly alluding to his broken personality and the wrongs he commits in the night. He is manipulative, deceitful, and seemingly heartless, however, it is not made clear until the last track why. The last song, The Knowing, is about a broken relationship the character was involved in, where his partner cheated. In the song, the narrator attempts to make himself feel better constantly, reminding his partner that he’s unfazed because he cheated too. The chorus of the song is him repeating that he knew everything and she can’t hurt him. However – it’s all forced. The whole song the Weeknd sounds like he’s on the verge of tears, and the lyrics sound so disingenuous, and the listener can clearly tell it’s a cover-up for his true feelings – as is what he’s been doing for the whole album. This relationship ruined him, and it made him who he is today. It made the Weeknd. 

House of Balloons is an incredible record, sonically and conceptually. It explores the night-life of this lone wolf-type character, extremely shallow in nature. It created one of the biggest artists on the planet today and is widely believed to never have been topped by the Weeknd himself. It was an important milestone in R&B, which led to massive influence on the genre, revolutionizing it to this day. House of Balloons is a classic of the last decade – and its impact will be felt for years to come.