The music video for Janet Jackson’s 1989 hit Rhythm Nation caused a sensation in terms of choreography and direction.
His hazy, noir style has earned him numerous accolades, including a Grammy Award for Best Long Form Music Video.
But the dystopian pop video also had something else – the power to crash laptops according to Microsoftand not just the ones he played on.
In a blog post this week, the company’s senior software engineer, Raymond Chen, said a colleague recently shared a story with him from when he provided product support for Windows XP.
“A major computer manufacturer discovered that playing the video clip for Janet Jackson‘Rhythm Nation’ would crash some laptop models,” Chen wrote.
It wasn’t just this manufacturer either. The investigation found that playing the music video also caused some of their competitors’ laptops to crash.
But the strangest discovery was yet to come.
It didn’t even have to be the laptop the music video was playing on. Just playing the video clip on one laptop can crash another nearby.
“It turns out that the song contained one of the natural resonant frequencies for the 5400 RPM model of laptop hard drives that they and other manufacturers were using,” Chen explained. .
The problem was similar to that of an opera singer being able to break a glass while singing a particular pitch.
Because sounds are simply acoustic waves, there is a wavelength or frequency for each material that can create the most vibration, known as the medium’s resonant frequency.
For the affected laptops – which shipped around 2005, according to a vulnerability report filed by The Miter Corporation – that frequency was in the Janet Jackson clip.
Miter describes the issue as a security flaw that could allow an attacker to force the system to crash using the audio signal from the Rhythm Nation music video.
Fortunately, today’s laptops won’t suffer from the same problem – Microsoft claims the manufacturer added “a custom filter in the audio pipeline that detected and removed offending frequencies during audio playback”.