Janet Jackson’s Song Could Crash Laptops! Microsoft Says The ‘Rhythm Nation’ Video Led To Mysterious System Failures

Janet Jackson’s Song Could Crash Laptops! Microsoft Says The ‘Rhythm Nation’ Video Led To Mysterious System Failures

Updated on August 23, 2022 14:12 PM by Andrew Koschiev

Janet Jackson’s Chartbuster Track Rhythm Nation

The transformative power of music is well-documented. Music is known to inspire spiritual devotion and motivate people to go to great lengths. However, have you ever heard of the destructive ability of music? Perhaps, a rather unusual happening.

Tech behemoth Microsoft recently revealed how playing a particular song could crash certain models of its laptops. The song in contention was popular singer-dancer Janet Jackson’s chartbuster track “Rhythm Nation.”

Raymond Chen, a Microsoft software engineer, said they had discovered an unusual incident. According to Chen, playing ‘Rhythm Nation’ on a laptop led to the crashing of another laptop placed next to it. This happened even when the song was not played on the laptop.

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Natural Resonant Frequency

In the blog, Chen said that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the model of 5400 rpm laptop hard drives, which Microsoft and other companies 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," Chen said.

The software engineer went on to say that he was sure that they had put a digital version of the “do not remove” sticker on the audio filter. “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).” read the blog post.

According to experts, the issue was similar to the shattering of glass by an opera singer who croons in a particular tone. Since the sounds are acoustic waves, a particular wavelength for a said material can create the most vibration. This is known as the resonant frequency of the medium.

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A Security Vulnerability?

In a report filed by The Mitre Corporation, an NGO conducting R&D on security, the affected laptops sold sometime in 2005 had crashed due to a similar frequency found in Jackson’s music video.

The organization has categorized the issue as a security vulnerability that could potentially enable hackers to crash the system using the audio signal from the ‘Rhythm Nation’ music video.

Laptops today are unlikely to face such an issue considering the manufacturers have added a custom filter in the audio pipeline that identifies and obliterates the troublesome frequencies during audio playback.

“Rhythm Nation,” the second single from Jackson’s album “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814,” was released in 1989.

The song, noted for its social theme and upbeat music, climbed to the second spot on Billboard Hot 100 upon its release.

The song won several accolades, including the BMI Pop Award for Most Played Song, the Billboard Awards for Top Dance/Club Play Single, and a nomination for Jackson as the year's Producer at the Grammys.

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