The Meaning of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is one of the most enduring classics of the 80s. Written by noted composer and songwriter Jim Steinman and appearing on Bonnie’s 1983 album Faster Than the Speed of Night, the lyrics are generally assumed to be about love and longing — and that would be correct.

However, there is a deeper meaning behind “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that has been revealed in the decades since the song’s release. The truth is that Jim Steinman originally wrote the song for a musical version of the 1992 vampire film Nosferatu, with the original title being “Vampires in Love”.

Steinman spoke of this with Playbill in September 2002:

But with ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart,’ I was trying to come up with a love song and I remembered I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was ‘Vampires in Love’ because I was working on a musical of `Nosferatu,’ the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they’re really like vampire lines. It’s all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love’s place in dark.

Jim Steinman on “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

The musical of Nosferatu that Steinman spoke about working on in the 80s never came about, though in 1997 Steinman finally did have his shot to write the music for a vampire musical with Dance of the Vampires opening in Vienna, Austria.

Dance of the Vampires is a musical remake of the famous Roman Polanski film from 1967, and it includes an alternate version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that received a positive response from fans who recognized the classic.

Looking at the lyrics to “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” they do still read like a love song, however there are dark undertones that make much more sense in the context of vampires in love.

In the first verse, Tyler sings about getting lonely, and feeling the desire to see the look in the eyes of her lover. There is a certain craze about the lyrics, giving the idea that Tyler is exasperated in love:

(Turn around)
Every now and then I get a little bit lonely
And you’re never coming ’round
(Turn around)
Every now and then I get a little bit tired
Of listening to the sound of my tears
(Turn around)
Every now and then I get a little bit nervous
That the best of all the years have gone by
(Turn around)
Every now and then I get a little bit terrified
And then I see the look in your eyes

First verse to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.

The pre-chorus that is repeated several times throughout the song contains the strange lyric, “turn around, bright eyes,” that offers a much clearer vision when you imagine a vampire with bright, glowing eyes:

(Turn around, bright eyes)
Every now and then I fall apart
(Turn around, bright eyes)
Every now and then I fall apart

Pre-chorus to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.
Bonnie Tyler live in 1983.

Finally, we have the big, iconic chorus that has been shouted out by fans all over the world for the better part of four decades at this point, sung first in Bonnie Tyler’s stunning, raspy voice:

And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you only hold me tight
We’ll be holding on forever
And we’ll only be making it right
‘Cause we’ll never be wrong
Together we can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time (All of the time)
I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark
We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
Forever’s gonna start tonight
Forever’s gonna start tonight

Chorus to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.

The chorus offers more lyrics that could be taken as vampire references, or telling a story that takes place within the world of vampires. Here they play into the idea of darkness as a constant, because vampires are believed to be burned by sunlight and other forms of UV light.

Vampires also live forever, so the lines that mention forever starting tonight can be seen as a vampire reference, though the idea of “forever” has been a love trope since… well, forever.

Much like a vampire, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” will also live forever, as the song remains in public rotation to this day. It topped the charts in several countries upon its release, including the U.S., Canada, and more.

It’s been featured in countless films, and it even went viral on social media during the solar eclipses of 2015 and 2018. In fact, Bonnie Tyler herself sang the song aboard a cruise ship during the eclipse, however her performance left something to be desired. Let’s just say you’re better off with the studio version.

Steinman’s musical, too, has proven to be a longstanding success. It was in production on a yearly basis from 2000 to 2020, with a major run on Broadway lasting from 2000 to 2003.

Watch the music video for “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler below.

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

  • September 3, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    I saw this interpretation of the meaning of the song, and the songwriter’s comments, but I don’t think a fair reading of the lyrics as a poem (I was a Lit major in college) suggests that either Steiman’s stated interpretation (which I believe was more commercially driven) or the other two interpretations, hit the mark. It misses the meaning of the “total eclipse of the heart.” Eclipse does not have the meaning of the verb to eclipse, but the noun, an eclipse. In the latter, three bodies are involved (sun, moon, earth), and in the event of an eclipse, one body is blocked out. One body comes between two bodies. I think the song is about a new lover coming between two old lovers. The old lover has lost his/her partner. The lover who loses out is singing the song, wanting his/her partner back, and if he/she comes back all will be right – for eternity as the final lyrics say.
    Have a read with this basic interpretation and see what you think.
    Great song, great vocals. No vampires though. Just Miss BR singing a great tune.

    Reply
    • October 10, 2022 at 11:04 pm

      This comment above is why you never listen to the interpretations of people who didn’t write the song.
      Steinmann said it all. It’s a vampire love song written for a vampire musical. His words, his meanings, his interpretations. Enough said.

      Reply

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