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Joe Keery, the actor who plays the endearing Steve Harrington on ‘Stranger Things,’ is now a music star

The actor has had a music career under the name Djo for years, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that one of his songs, ‘End of Beginning,’ became a mass phenomenon after going viral on TikTok

Joe Keery
Joe Keery at the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California.Jamie McCarthy (WireImage/ Getty)
Elena Muñoz

His name may not ring a bell, but his face is more than familiar to millions of people. Joe Keery, 31, rose to fame playing the character of Steve Harrington in Stranger Things, first as a secondary character and then becoming more central in the plot until he became one of the popular Netflix series’ main characters. With his role on the show, Keery experienced what it was like to be part of a phenomenon with global appeal. Now, seven years after debuting in the series, he is once again achieving success at the highest levels, this time thanks to his work as a singer. Keery has been making music since 2019 under the name Djo and now many have discovered the actor from one of the most famous series in recent television history is behind the alias. And it’s all because of the song, End of Beginning, which went viral on TikTok; today it is very difficult not to come across the tune there.

The song in question is a track from the album Decide, which was released in 2022 and rediscovered by social media users a month ago. Thereafter, the song shot up the music charts at a dizzying pace and has come to hold the number one spot on Spotify’s global list; the song has racked up over 272 million plays on the music platform (to get an idea, the platform’s next most listened-to song does not exceed 97 million). To put that into perspective, it should be noted that at one point Djo surpassed heavyweights such as Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande (who just released her seventh album) in listens on the music platform. Oblivious to the world of social media, nobody is more surprised about the song’s success than Keery himself: “I’m probably more confused than ever, but it’s really, really cool to see something that you’ve written affect people and have them take it in as their own and into their own lives,” he added.

The song talks about the actor’s years in Chicago, where he lived for a while and left after the success of Stranger Things, when he had to move to Los Angeles. Keery has had artistic interests since he was a child. Acting and music have always been part of the actor’s life. He debuted in front of the cameras in television commercials and small roles in minor series. Keery graduated from the School of Theater at DePaul University in Chicago. He soon became involved in the independent music scene and was part of the psychedelic rock band Post Animal, which he left in 2019. That was when he launched his solo career under the name Djo, an alias he chose to avoid any link to his acting career, where Stranger Things was making him a budding star. “I didn’t really want to capitalize on my name as an actor, and I wanted to dissociate Steve from Stranger Things from the music,” he told The Guardian.

When he went on stage, he did not hesitate to put on a wig and sunglasses. Now, the mask has fallen, and it is difficult to hide the identity behind Djo. Paradoxically, Keery doesn’t have social media, although it has raised his music’s profile higher than ever. The actor says that he finds it difficult “to maintain any sort of healthy relationship with social media. I have an account for Djo that I’m not in control of – otherwise it’s so easy to be sucked in,” he recently told the British newspaper. After two solo albums (Twenty Twenty Twenty and Decide), Keery is planning the release of the third, which has already been recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York. “So many legends have recorded at that place, like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, and then back in the day obviously Hendrix and the Rolling Stones and AC/DC…So, so crazy,” he enthused about this third project, still in its early stages.

In his life, music has followed a trajectory parallel to acting. Getting rid of the shadow of the endearing Steve Harrington from Stranger Things will not be easy, but Keery is attempting to do so with projects in which he proves to be a more than capable actor. In addition to appearing in several independent films, such as Spree (a satire of social media released in 2020) and the romantic comedy After Everything (where he met his partner from 2017 to 2023, fellow actress Maika Monroe), Keery’s filmography also has room for blockbusters. In 2021 he was in the successful Free Guy, directed and produced by Shawn Levy, also a producer on Stranger Things. In addition, last year Keery premiered his period drama Finally Dawn, co-starring Lily James and Willem Dafoe, at the Venice Film Festival. Without straying from the path that promises to make him the darling of American indie cinema, last February he could be seen as the protagonist in Marmalade, alongside Camila Morrone. Aware that typecasting is the main burden in an actor’s career, he jumps from one genre to another with astonishing ease. He will soon add to his growing resume with the sci-fi film Cold Storage, where he will work with Liam Neeson.

Stranger Things
Joe Keery with his partner, actress Maika Monroe, at the premiere of the third season of 'Stranger Things' on June 28, 2019, in Santa Monica, California.Amy Sussman (Getty Images)

On television, Keery’s latest project positions him as one of the actors of the moment. He recently participated in the new season of Fargo, the black comedy-tinged fiction inspired by the Coen brothers’ film of the same name. With this role, Keery has captivated critics, who praise his performance in the fifth season of the series, where he plays cop Gator Tillman, the son of the town sheriff, played by Jon Hamm. During the six months of filming in Canada, the two actors bonded with father-son-like plans: “We had a lot of downtime; we watched a bunch of football, we went to dinner and stuff. It was just a real, real pleasure to be around him,” he told WWD of the shoot.

It’s been two years since the last season of Stranger Things premiered and eight since the show’s first episode debuted. Keery joined a year later. He initially auditioned for the role of Jonathan Byers (eventually played by Charlie Heaton); while he didn’t get the part, he did impress the producers and got a supporting role in the second season: Steve Harrington. The character ended up becoming a recurring character in the main cast. Thus, from when he was 23 years old to now at age 31, Keery’s entire career has developed hand in hand with the Netflix blockbuster.

Stranger Things
From left to right: Maya Hawke, Joe Keery and Gaten Matarazzo in the third season of 'Stranger Things.’ Netflix (©Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection / Cordon Press)

Talking with Variety, the Massachusetts native didn’t hesitate to make clear how important Stranger Things has been in his career, but he acknowledges that all things must end at some point: “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,” he said. For the moment, we will have to wait until 2025 to know how it ends. The actor has explained that this “bitter” ending, as he describes it, has certain similarities to the background of the song End of Beginning, a nostalgic song written after returning to the city of Chicago some time after having lived there, with a completely different life. “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,” he told Variety. He added that the song “is about living for the day and not getting too wrapped up in the past but appreciating it for what it was.” Grateful for his past, Keery’s present couldn’t be any brighter and his future looks promising, to say the least.

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