2011 was a great year for misogyny. Rappers like Drake and DJ Quik received critical acclaim despite glorifying egregious double standards, Lady Gaga set feminism back a decade, Odd Future existed, and women screamed lines like “All these girls try to tell me she got no love / But all these girls never ever got a blowjob” at the top of their lungs back at Abel Tesfaye at a rare Weeknd show earlier this year. Despite being widely chauvinistic and, at times, even graphic, House of Balloons, The Weeknd’s debut mixtape, became a sleeper hit among normal people and sexually frustrated basement dwellers alike. When publications like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone started singing its graces, I almost felt disgusted for them.
But, despite its truly gruesome intentions, House of Balloons is a success. Tesfaye’s voice is positively orgasmic all over this thing, but what really makes the record stand out is its production by Canadian producers Don McKinney, Zodiac and Illangelo, specifically its creative use of samples, a fact supported by the mixtape’s mediocre follow-up, Thursday. Hearing Beach House singer Victoria Legrand’s pitch-shifted voice scold Tesfaye’s melancholy is a worthy counterbalance to the record’s aural grime. And turning Sioux Sioux and the Banshees’ “Happy House” into a New Jack anthem was a stroke of pure genius, a massive height from which Tesfaye could jump off right into the dirge of “Glass Table Girls.”
What is also important is that House of Balloons has an intense emotional core, fueled by god knows what and, for that matter, god knows who would want to know. That’s why, even though The Weeknd is rumored to release another mixtape before year’s end, I don’t think Tesfaye will ever top House of Balloons. Much like we can’t hear Eminem rap about being poor after he’s made millions doing so on his first record, I cannot take Tesfaye’s infernal gripes seriously for another album. House of Balloons’s carnal seduction is something that can only be made once before The Weeknd changes up their act. The ground covered on it is so disgusting and intrepid that it cannot and should not be tampered with ever again.