Djo Has a Hot 100 Hit. For Joe Keery, It’s a ‘Rebirth’

When Joe Keery first moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University’s Theatre School, he had no idea what direction his life would take. After graduating in 2014, the Massachusetts native stuck around for three more years, working at a restaurant, getting small acting gigs, playing in his former band Post Animal, and moving from neighborhood to neighborhood.

“It was kind of whatever would hit first,” he recalls over coffee in the West Village. These days, Keery has settled down in downtown New York between shooting shows like Stranger Things and Fargo. Though his role as Steve Harrington on Netflix’s blockbuster sci-fi horror series Stranger Things would change his life forever, Keery has found ways to make his love for both acting and music co-exist in his life. Since 2019, he’s been releasing music under the name Djo, an intentionally used pseudonym to separate his music from his beloved fictional character. 

And this week, Djo just made his Hot 100 debut with his 2022 song “End of Beginning.”

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“It’s very cool,” Keery says, still shocked that the song has taken off. The track was originally released on his sophomore album Decide. It was never released as a single, but it started connecting with fans on TikTok this year. “I’ve been so lucky to be on Stranger Things. That’s obviously touched a lot of people. But I wasn’t involved in the writing process, so to have something I actually wrote do that is a really unique experience.”

Keery can’t really replace how or why “End of Beginning” has found an audience on TikTok. He first started seeing the song, which is written about his time in Chicago, used in edits of the show The Bear. (“I feel like I owe Jeremy Allen White,” he jokes.) There seems to be three distinct styles of videos using the song: Chicago-centric edits, an “If I won the lottery…” trend and, more recently, people documenting their reaction to figuring out that Keery is the one singing the song. 

“What was at first an avoidance tactic has turned into quite the marketing tool,” he says. Even Keery posted a video highlighting how people were piecing together how he is actually Djo on his own TikTok page. “I wish I could say I thought it would be a great marketing tool. It was dumb luck really.”

Keery wrote the song during a visit back to Chicago a few years ago. He was heading there to play some shows at the venue Sleeping Village during the summer, a time that evoked particularly sweet memories of his early twenties. 

“Every time I go back to the city, especially in the summer, the way that that city smells and feels and the humidity instantly brought me back to that time,” he says. “It’s before my whole life changed and I look back on it really fondly. I was so eager and anxious and hungry and I really wanted to leave the city and see things happen for myself. Now that I’ve done that, whenever I go back there I think about how amazing that chunk of time there was: playing in the music scene there, working professionally, doing commercials and finding my way.”

He emphasizes, however, that “End of Beginning” is not song about living in the past. “It’s really about appreciating your past and trying to live in the present and not look back on moments thinking ‘I was only looking at the future.’”

Right before he moved to Atlanta to film Stranger Things, Post Animal had recorded an album and planned on touring it. He prioritized the show, which ended up being his big break, and his bandmates were supportive and ended up touring without him. 

“It was really exciting but it took me a second to shift,” Keery recalls. “In a way, I feel like I kind of got dragged away from this group of friends and allowed myself to live in a different world for a while. But now where I’m at, I realized that group of people is one of the most important things in my life.”

Even before it got a second life, “End of Beginning” had already inspired a new recording path for Djo. Much of his music had been recorded in his bedroom or on the road, and he often found himself obsessing over the way a song first sounded when it was just-formed, wanting to make that kernel of an idea work instead of using it as a launchpad for something else. Demos for “End of Beginning” sounded totally different from the final product; he even shared one on Instagram last week as the song was blowing up and noted how much it sounded like Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s.” 

Recording “End of Beginning” made him thrilled by the prospect of becoming a more studio-based artist, inspired by the “studio wizard” bands and songwriters he’s always been obsessed with: Steely Dan, Toto, Supertramp, David Bowie, John Lennon. 


As for what’s next, Keery has the final season of Stranger Things to complete as well as his third album. He’s hoping the album will come later this year then maybe a proper tour next year. He’s also hoping to produce more for other artists, specifically newer ones, and help their visions come to life. Seeing “End of Beginning” connect with an even wider number of listeners has made the possibilities more endless than he could have ever dreamed.

“It’s like a rebirth for me.”