Janet Jackson is boasting about a post on Instagram as Microsoft software engineer Raymond Chen’s blog claims that the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” was causing particular mid-2000s laptops to crash. Believe it or not, it’s true!
Not only this, but a ‘major computer manufacturer’ investigation even discovered that merely playing the song nearby would shut down some machines. Only this specific song would yield the problem too, and the reason why is incredible. Read on to learn all about it.
A Music That Can Crash Computers…
While our devices never judge us for our music taste, computers and laptops in the mid-2000s could not take Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation”. According to a story shared by Microsoft principal software engineer Raymond Chen on his blog The Old New Thing, some Windows XP-era laptops did end up taking exception to the music video for Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” because it contained a sound that crashed their hard drives.
Per Chen, an unnamed “major computer manufacturer” discovered that some of their computers were crashing when trying to play the song and that playing the song on one laptop could even crash another computer nearby. The manufacturer also found out that the issue cropped up on various other companies’ laptops as well.
What Is The Reason For Crashing?
Here's our first video from our new series with Raymond Chen, @ChenCravat.
We asked him to tell us about the mystery wherein some music would crash a laptop!!?? pic.twitter.com/BRgfsWEaaC
— Windows Dev Docs (@WindowsDocs) August 12, 2022
In Chen’s article, it came up that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used. “Basically, those laptops would act up because the hard drives couldn’t function properly while something else was using the same frequencies,” Chen said.
The issue was also apparently partially resolved by the PC manufacturer at the time. The manufacturer worked around the problem by adding a custom filter in the audio pipeline that detected and removed the offending frequencies during audio playback. Chen wrote in his article:
“…And I’m sure they put a digital version of a “Do not remove” sticker on that audio filter. (Though I’m worried that in the many years since the workaround was added, nobody remembers why it’s there. Hopefully, their laptops are not still carrying this audio filter to protect against damage to a model of hard drive they are no longer using.)”
As for Janet Jackson’s song, “Rhythm Nation” was the second single released in 1989 from Jackson’s fourth studio album, “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.” She came up with the concept in response to current events at the time and wanted to speak out with a socially conscious theme set to dance music.
The song made it to No. 1 on Billboard’s Dance Club Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs List and No. 2 on its Hot 100. Jackson also earned a Grammy nomination as Producer of the Year.
Chen’s story is, unfortunately, relatively light on specific. Chen didn’t mention which laptops or hard drives were affected. However, Chen’s article still serves as a fun anecdote about exceedingly strange things that physics can do to our computers and nailing down what seems to be a completely random bug. What do you think?