Djo’s Joe Keery on How Viral Song ‘End of Beginning’ Mirrors ‘Stranger Things’ Final Season: ‘I’m a Different Person Than I Was’

If you’ve been on TikTok in the last few weeks, chances are you’ve heard Djo’s “End of Beginning,” a synth-heavy psychedelic track soaked in nostalgia.

But you may not know that the man behind Djo is none other than Joe Keery, best known for playing lovable jock Steve Harrington on Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” Keery has been releasing music under the moniker since 2019, but it wasn’t until last month that the sudden TikTok popularity of “End of Beginning” — a non-single track off his 2022 album “Decide” — took the musical project into the mainstream, with the song’s 2.2 million video creations on the app catapulting it to No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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Keery says he wrote the song about his experience leaving Chicago — where he attended DePaul University and became embedded in the local indie-rock scene as an original member of the band Post Animal — to move to L.A. after the success of “Stranger Things.” But now, with the final season of the sci-fi series fast approaching, Keery says the song’s message once again feels relevant.

“It’s about what it means to grow up and look back at a section of your life and kind of yearn for that, but then also to have a deep appreciation for what happened,” Keery says, adding of “Stranger Things”: “It’s kind of a similar thing I was going through when I was looking back at my time in Chicago. It’s like the end of a period of my life.”

Below, Keery chats with Variety about the song’s success, saying goodbye to “Stranger Things” and what’s next for him when it comes to music and acting.

You’re not very present on social media — how did you find out that “End of Beginning” was blowing up on TikTok?

Yeah, I’m not on TikTok, so my friend and longtime collaborator Adam Thein let me know that something was going on. There’s a little Spotify recap page for the artists, and you can see sort of a bump and then it just kept on bumping, I guess. It was kind of crazy.

It seems the main trend associated with the song is, for some reason, about what people would do if they won the lottery, but I’ve also seen some montages of Chicago playing off the song’s chorus (“And when I’m back in Chicago / I feel it”), which makes me happy as a former resident.

You know, I’m not super privy to all the trends and what they are, but it seems like there’s been a couple of different ones that have gone off. But it’s pretty cool that people at least connect enough with the song to share it in that way.

To play into the trend, what would you do if you won the lottery?

That’s a good question… I don’t know if much would change. I feel so lucky to do all the work and the stuff I get to do now. I’d probably continue to work on music, continue to try and do acting stuff. Maybe I’d just like, open a diner. That sounds kinda fun.

Joe’s Diner!

Something like that. Maybe not my name, but something good.

“End of Beginning” has even reached the Billboard charts, and is in the Top 25 on the Hot 100. How does it feel?

It’s very weird, honestly. It’s not anything that’s really been on my radar at all, so to be included now in that way is pretty cool and a little validating. But it’s not really going to change the way I work. I think I’ll probably just continue to make the stuff I want to keep making.

Take me back to the beginning of “End of Beginning.” What does the song mean to you?

It’s about coming back to a place that meant so much to you and was a really big part of your life, but your life has moved on and taken you elsewhere. … That’s what happens to me when I go to Chicago. It’s hard for me not to imagine who I was, what my life was like. It is obviously a nostalgic song — I think it sounds pretty nostalgic too, just the whole atmosphere of the song. But I think ultimately, the song is about living for the day and not getting too wrapped up in the past but appreciating it for what it was.

Although “End of Beginning” is having a moment right now, it was originally released in 2022. Can fans expect new Djo music soon?

Yeah, new music on the way. Coming up hot. Trying to finish that out and then obviously working on “Stranger Things” still — that’s always a thing that I’m doing.

Not for long! How are you feeling leading up to the show’s final season?

It’s bittersweet. It’s kind of a similar thing I was going through when I was looking back at my time in Chicago. It’s like the end of a period of my life. So I’m just trying to soak it up and enjoy each day that I get to be on this insane ride that I’ve been on. It’ll definitely be sad. But obviously, more happy that it happened in the first place.

You’ve been on “Stranger Things” for eight years. Do you feel ready to move on, in a way?

I’m a different person than I was when I first joined the show. I think everybody is. It was a tool for me to grow and figure out who I was and the artist I wanted to be and I’m forever grateful for that. But yeah, there’s a point in everybody’s lives when it’s time to spread your wings and move on to the next thing. So there’s a part of me that does feel that way, but definitely not without a little sadness for moving on.

Once filming is over, is there any chance of a Djo tour?

If that can happen, that would be amazing, especially because I didn’t get to properly tour that last album at all. For me, it would be like a bucket list thing. When I played with Post Animal, it was never something that I really did — I was gone by the time they were touring. So I would feel so lucky to be able to do that.

Your acting career is also full speed ahead with your recent role in “Fargo” and the upcoming movie “Cold Storage” opposite Liam Neeson. Do you think your music and acting worlds can coexist, or do you see yourself focusing in on one?

They both work so well together because basically, when I’m unemployed and don’t have an acting job, I can do music stuff. Being an actor, you’re part of an ensemble and that’s a really amazing and unique experience. Part of the job is to realize the director’s vision, and that brings me a lot of joy to work with somebody in that way, especially when you’re working with amazing directors and other collaborators. And then with music, I have a little bit more creative control over the whole vision, and I also really enjoy that aspect of it. It’s maddening at some points — you don’t want to always be the one in charge. But it’s just stretching a different kind of muscle.

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