Janet Jackson is still a major force in pop culture, but she used to be everywhere. Her records topped charts. Her music videos played endlessly. The merest glimpse of just one of her nipples could send an entire nation into turmoil. And, as we’ve just learned, the sound of her 1989 single “Rhythm Nation” could crash computers.
Raymond Chen, in a post for Microsoft’s The Old New Thing devblog, looked back on the time when Windows XP users who owned different brands of laptops experienced hardware crashes when Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video was played on their computers. (You can watch the video and listen to the song above. It’s safe now. We promise.)
Chen explains that a Microsoft colleague who worked in XP’s support division discovered the reason for this bizarre problem. In trying to isolate the issue, the team found that playing the “Rhythm Nation” video on one laptop could cause another nearby machine to crash. Based on this evidence, the researchers figured out that it wasn’t the video that was to blame but the song itself.
“It turns out,” Chen writes, “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.”
In an article from Rock Paper Shotgun, Alice O’Connor summarizes why this was an issue. “With sound being vibrations, if you hit something with a noise at its natural resonant frequency, it’ll vibrate more in response,” she writes. “In a delicately balanced mechanical hard drive, unexpected intense vibration is bad.”
To address this, the laptop makers had to create and implement a custom audio filter that removed the frequencies responsible for the crashes. “Rhythm Nation” was then defeated, to the relief of laptops everywhere.
While Chen and O’Connor’s explanations for the phenomenon are convincing enough, we cannot discount the very likely possibility that Jackson was actually a secret agent in the employ of Apple. For years, “Rhythm Nation” lay in wait for the perfect opportunity to strike, finding a weakness in these Windows XP laptops. We can only hope that this is the end of the story and that “The Pleasure Principle” or “That’s The Way Love Goes” aren’t waiting patiently for the right time to begin destroying computers across the world.
Send Great Job, Internet tips to email@example.com