Microsoft reveals that Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation video had the power to crash Windows XP laptops

Janet Jackson
(Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

With its call for racial unity, Janet Jackson’s 1989 single Rhythm Nation - produced by Jam & Lewis - carries a powerful lyrical message, but it turns out that it was one of its frequencies that had the biggest impact on a number of Windows laptops.

Writing on the company’s development blog, Microsoft software engineer Raymond Chen has revealed that a colleague in Windows XP product support shared with him that a “major computer manufacturer” discovered that, when played, the song’s video would crash not only one of their own laptops, but also some of their competitors’.

In fact, it even transpired that playing the Rhythm Nation video on one laptop could cause a nearby laptop to crash if it was susceptible to the problem.

Explaining the phenomenon, Chen says: “It turns out that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400rpm laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers used.

“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.

“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.)”

Sadly we don’t know which manufacturers and laptops were affected by this decidedly niche problem, but if you have an old Windows XP machine kicking around, feel free to fire up the Rhythm Nation video and try and recreate it…

Ben Rogerson

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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