Bonnie Tyler on her iconic hit, the total solar eclipse and how she took control of her career
Bonnie Tyler had no idea there was going to be a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 — until Royal Caribbean invited her to perform iconic hit onboard the ship during the eclipse.
The Welsh singer had spent the better part of 2017 on tour, in countries like New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, Mexico and Chile. But her schedule was open in the days surrounding the eclipse. “I flew from Lebanon to come here, via Dubai,” Tyler said in an interview on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas ship. Mic was onboard as a guest to cover the eclipse. “We had a couple of days off, thank god.” And she didn’t realize what a big deal it would be. “I just thought, this is a nice opportunity to see what this cruise ship is like, and to work with such an iconic band,” she said, referring to DNCE, who performed the song with her. “It’s just been a whirlwind.”
In the weeks leading up to Aug. 21, the solar eclipse was heavily discussed — how to watch it, where to buy special glasses, how to take photos. So when news broke the Wednesday before that Tyler would be performing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” during the eclipse, collective excitement erupted over the fact that the beloved karaoke song would be performed at the most appropriate time of all.
On the day of the eclipse, Tyler’s schedule was packed — there were the back-to-back morning shows, a soundcheck for the performance, then more interviews. And as all this was happening, Tyler was on a ship surrounded by thousands of fans. “Of course, everybody wants photographs these days,” she said with a laugh. “Usually, you travel with a whole load of signed autographs and just give them out, but no, everybody wants a selfie. It’s been fun.” The big moment came around 1:40 p.m. Eastern, when Tyler came out to perform “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with DNCE, just as the eclipse was starting.
Aside from being her biggest hit, the song has much personal meaning for Tyler. “I was quite shy in the ’80s, but I knew what I wanted to do,” she said. In her early 30s, she was itching to sing more powerful songs. “I always wanted to work with [songwriter] Jim Steinman, and when I was changing record companies from RCA to CBS back in the early ’80s, I said to the record company, ‘I want to work with whoever Meat Loaf works with.’ I love the songs that he did on Bat Out of Hell.” The young singer was met with skepticism. “The A&R guy said to me, ‘He’s never going do it it, Bonnie.’ And I said, ‘How do you know? Ask him.’ Because if you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Tyler said.
Steinman asked Tyler to fly from the U.K. and meet him in the U.S. so he could listen to her music. “We got on really well,” she said. “Three weeks later, he finished writing ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart.’ He started writing it years before, and I think it was originally brought to Meat Loaf, but he never finished the song until he met me.”
When it came out in 1983, the song topped Billboard charts for four weeks, and Tyler and Steinman worked together on two albums. “You’ve got to believe in yourself, and go for it,” she said. “The first time I heard this song, it made me cry.”
The eccentric music video, which Steinman storyboarded, helped cement the hit. “I hated making the video,” Tyler said. “Put me on a stage, singing in front of thousands of people, and I don’t give a damn. I’m not a natural on camera, so it was torture.” The video shoot “involved having to run through the snow in bare feet, which was really painful,” Tyler said. “I was just thinking, ‘Fuck, when is this going to finish?’ But it was worth it.”
And 34 years later, the song remains one of her defining hits. “I never get tired of singing it,” she said. “I must have sung it thousands of times, and I love it.”
Most of the world will likely remember Aug. 21 based on where they were during the rare eclipse. “It just makes you realize how powerful the universe is, and how insignificant we all are,” Tyler said. But she has another memory to hang on to. The thousands of people on board the Royal Caribbean ship weren’t the only people listening to Tyler’s hit that day: Spotify streams of the song in the United States peaked with an increase of 3,521% on Aug. 21, compared to the same time two weeks ago. Fans were not only listening, but buying the music for their own digital collections as well.
“I’m amazed that the song has gone to number one on iTunes,” Tyler said. The 34-year-old song returning to the charts marks another major accomplishment: “All those years ago, I knocked Pink Floyd off the top [of the charts]. And now I’ve knocked Justin Bieber off! It was a hell of a day.”