House of Balloons is the debut mixtape by Canadian singer The Weeknd, released as a free download on March 21, 2011, through his website. Its music incorporates electronic and urban genres including R&B and soul with trip hop, indie rock, and dream pop tonesContributions to the mixtape's production came from Canadian producers Doc McKinney, Zodiac, Illangelo.
The song "High for This" was featured in the promo for the final season of the HBO show Entourage in July 2011.
On November 24, 2011, The Weeknd’s first official music video, for his song “The Knowing,” hit the Internet on his Vimeo page. The song was first released on House of Balloons and the video was directed by French filmmaker Mikael Colombu, who has also worked with singer Cee Lo Green. The nearly eight-minute clip is described by authors Carrie Battan and Amy Phillips of Pitchfork Media as, “a time traveling, Afrofuturist, science fiction battle of the sexes that demands to be watched in HD.” The Weeknd occupies different spaces as an Ethiopian man who immerses himself within a predominantly white culture of ecstasy substance abuse. This culture is portrayed through House of Balloons' mixtape artwork, which exhibits solely white women. The Weeknd's popularity also grew because of his mysteriousness. During the release of this project, very few people knew what The Weeknd even looked like because all of the pictures of him were in the dark/shadows. He later makes note of his mysterious identity by saying "When you're used to my face, and my mystery fades.." The obscurity of The Weeknd's identity, sound, and racial dynamic is what collaborated to give him an increase in popularity at the time of his first few music projects.
Upon its release, House of Balloons received rave reviews from music critics. Preceded by a string of low-profile buzz single releases throughout 2010, the mixtape attracted significant interest due to the then-anonymous identity of the individual behind The Weeknd. Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating based on reviews by industry professionals, gave House of Balloons a rating of 87, indicating "universal acclaim". Sean Fennessey of The Village Voice was impressed by the mixtape, calling it "patient, often gorgeous, and consistently louche... with the sort of blown-out underbelly and echo-laden crooning that has already made Drake's less-than-a-year-old Thank Me Later such an influential guidepost." Maegan McGregor of Exclaim! stated that House of Balloons "easily stands as one of the year's best debuts so far, hipster, Top 40 or otherwise."Sputnikmusic's Tyler Fisher said that "despite being a free album, House of Balloons feels like a true album, a true labor of love." Tom Ewing of The Guardian felt that while The Weeknd's vocals and lyrics on House of Balloons "aren't especially strong by R&B standards," much of the album's attention was attracted by its strong command of mood. In a review for MSN Music, Robert Christgau gave the album a three-star honorable mention (), indicating "an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure."
In December 2011, Metacritic determined that House of Balloons was the third best-reviewed project of the year. Additionally, the mixtape was featured on several music critics' and publications' end-of-year albums lists. Complex called it the "best album of 2011;"Stereogum ranked it number 5;The Guardian ranked it number 8;The A.V. Club ranked it number 6;SPIN ranked it (as well as Thursday) number 13; while Pitchfork ranked it number 10. As a whole, House of Balloons was the seventh most frequently mentioned album in music publications' year-end Top Ten lists.