The Super Bowl XXXVIII incident was not the only malfunction surrounding Janet Jackson’s music in the mid aughts. Soon after that debacle, a computer manufacturer discovered that playing “Rhythm Nation” — a 1989 smash from Jackson’s fourth studio LP, Rhythm Nation 1814 — crashed a model of 5400-RPM laptop hard drives widely in use at the time. Longtime Microsoft developer and author Raymond Chen wrote about the glitch last week on his blog, The Old New Thing.
According to a colleague of Chen’s who worked for Windows XP product support at the time, the issue did not only occur when a copy of Rhythm Nation 1814 was physically spinning in the disc drive. It could also happen when the music “Rhythm Nation” music video was playing on the computer with no disc present. And, even more perplexingly, playing the video on one laptop could also cause nearby laptops to crash.
Apparently, “Rhythm Nation” inadvertently replicates a natural resonant frequency that is also produced by movement in the particular hard drive in question, causing it to shut down automatically. The manufacturer eventually solved the issue by creating a custom filter that detects and removes the problem frequency during playback of the song.
“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,” Chen writes. “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.”