Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation hit can crash some computers

Janet Jackson, sister of “King Pop” Michael Jackson and a successful solo artist, was responsible in the early 2000s for one of the strangest technical problems with PCs of the moment. Her song Rhythm Nation, released in 1989, included sounds at specific frequencies that could resonate with the turntables of some hard drive models. So if the song was played on speakers near computers equipped with these components, they would crash.

Janet Jackson’s song, responsible for crashing nearby computers

This was known at the time, and recently Raymond Chen, Software Engineer at Microsoft, told the story again on the Microsoft blog.

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Chen does not recount in detail what the components in question were, nor does he reveal which computer manufacturer was using those components. However, it appears that it was not a widespread problem, but one that only affected a specific hard drive model, used by several manufacturers.

If you put the Rhythm Nation song on one of the laptops or computers equipped with that hard drive, the computer would crash, and the only solution was to restart it. Interestingly, however, if there were other similar computers in the area, or with the same hard drive installed, they could all crash at the same time.

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The solution, however, was ultimately quite simple. The computer manufacturer identified the frequency in question and added an audio filter to the software they shipped pre-installed that recognized the frequency in the Janet Jackson song and overrode it. This meant that the sound could no longer be played back on those computers.

This “software” problem is even listed in the CVE database, where software vulnerabilities across the industry are recorded.

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