The Weeknd sent the internet into a frenzy when he announced the release of his 2011 mixtape House of Balloons on all streaming platforms this Sunday, March 21st, in celebration of its ten-year anniversary.
Let’s go back to 2011; an era when R&B was dominated by pretty boys by the likes of Usher and Jeremiah who exuded confidence, making fans swoon with their dance moves and romantic lyrics. The Weeknd was different. His elusive mixtape titled House of Balloons, a drug-drenched and emotionally chilling collection of songs, showed up deep in forums and niche music blogs. It was faceless, nameless—an antithesis to the genre.
Rumors swirled on who was behind the release. Online forums speculated that it was a group of people—the more Abel Tesfaye remained anonymous, the more his fanbase’s appetite grew. It was all about the music, and nothing more.
Toronto’s music scene was heating up, so it wasn’t long before the mixtape caught the attention of Drake, which helped solidify The Weeknd’s place in music. Slowly he started showing glimpses of his identity, starting with his first-ever music video for “Rolling Stone.” It took a few years for the mystery to fade but eventually, the identity of Abel Tesfaye became synonymous with The Weeknd.
In celebration, we took a deep-dive into the piece of music history and uncovered some facts you may not know.
House Of Balloons Is a Real Place
Have you ever wondered why The Weeknd titled his first release House of Balloons? It was the house where Tesfaye and his friends lived and partied, located on 65 Spencer Avenue in Toronto (if you want to check it out). If you’ve listened to the mixtape, then you’ll know that there were no doubt A LOT of legendary parties there. In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, he explained that the house wasn’t very nice, so when girls would come over to party, they would try and make it celebratory by having balloons. The time (and partying) spent at that house is said to have heavily influenced the mixtape.
Most Weeknd fans know his song “What You Need” as the seductive ballad that made it onto Trilogy, but not everyone knows the original version is from House of Balloons—and has a sample of Aaliyah’s “Rock The Boat.” The sample had to be removed for Trilogy because of copyright law—and the re-release marks the first time the 2011 version will be available in its entirety. There were always ways to find the original song online (thank you SoundCloud) but it hits different when you can add it to your Spotify playlist and listen to it on your AirPods.
An Unearthed Clip of “The Party & The After Party”
It’s a running joke in Toronto that everyone wants to be a rapper, and if you’ve lived in the Canadian city, chances are you’ve heard an unsolicited freestyle or rap before. Imagine it’s 2010 and you’re at a party in Toronto, a young guy in a hoodie and sunglasses starts singing an acapella version of “The Party & The After Party.” Would you guess that he would go on to become one of the biggest superstars in the world? Probably not. But it happened and you can find the uncut version of Tesfaye singing the song at a party on YouTube. It’s a must-watch.
The Reason Behind The Mysterious Album Art
Remember the section of the tabloids called “Stars They’re Just Like Us!” showing celebrities doing everyday things? In 2011, Tesfaye was not only grocery shopping like everyone else but he struggled with self-confidence too. He admitted in an interview years later that he felt his physical appearance was just as unconventional for R&B as his sound. That reason led to the creative decision to keep his face and identity a mystery while he sat back and watched the internet react to his sound alone.
In 2011, the official OVO Twitter account gave a shoutout to Tesfaye and his mixtape, which not only increased the buzz surrounding House of Balloons but marked the beginning of a longstanding relationship between OVO and XO. Drake himself tweeted a lyric from “Wicked Games” and credited The Weeknd, giving Tesfaye a co-sign that is highly coveted amongst emerging artists.
Songs for House Of Balloons on Take Care
Being under the wing of Drake no doubt helped shine a spotlight on Tesfaye that changed his life forever but there were some tradeoffs. In a 2013 interview, Tesfaye admitted that he gave Drake a bunch of songs he’d written for House of Balloons and they ended up on Take Care. We’ll never know exactly which songs those were but it’s a good indication of why his mixtape was only nine tracks long.
Die-hard The Weeknd fans might have noticed that the underground nightclub scene in the movie “Uncut Gems” features Tesfaye performing “The Morning.” It’s one of the songs from House of Balloons and makes sense considering the movie is set in 2012, a year after the mixtape was released. Soon after his performance, Tesfaye is also caught in the bathroom with Howard Ratner’s girlfriend (played by Julia Fox), further playing into his “steal your girl” persona perpetuated by the mixtape.
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