Well, Fairly New Anyway : The recording academy OKs Alanis Morissette and Hootie & the Blowfish for best new artist category.

Too bad Alanis Morissette had those two Canadian teen-pop albums a few years ago. Otherwise, she'd be a shoo-in for a Grammy nomination in the important best new artist category, right?

And it's a shame that Hootie & the Blowfish's "Cracked Rear View," the biggest hit of 1995, came out in the summer of '94, before the October-through-September eligibility period.

Don't toss out those ballots so fast.

"The rules say that a nomination can be for an artist's first [recording] that achieved public prominence, rather than their truly first release," says Michael Greene, president of the Grammy-sponsoring National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

With that in mind, a Grammy screening committee has just declared both the young singer-songwriter and the North Carolina quartet eligible as new artists. It's a dramatic application of new rules designed to inject much-needed credibility into the awards.

Little was made of it last year when Green Day became the first act to benefit from the new rule, gaining a nomination in the new artist category despite two independent albums that preceded its hit "Dookie." This year, Greene says, the change has been more "formalized."

With other recent changes that leave the final nominations for the four top awards (new artist, record, song and album) in the hands of an "elite" committee rather than the entire academy membership, Green predicts that some very popular performers might be left out of the process in favor of lesser-known but more respected artists.

"It's going to emphasize quality of recordings and performances," he says. "This process corrects some wrongs that had been dealt to people in the past."

Some of the most notorious and embarrassing wrongs have been in the new artist category--remember A Taste of Honey beating Elvis Costello and the Cars for the 1978 award? Remember Milli Vanilli in '89?

Just how drastically this could alter the Grammy profile is clear by looking at recent examples of key breakthrough artists being shut out.

* Nirvana's "Nevermind," the pace-setting album of 1991, would certainly have earned the Seattle band a new artist nomination under current rules. But Nirvana had released the fairly obscure "Bleach" on the independent Sub Pop label in 1989, which made it ineligible. The 1991 award went to singer-songwriter Marc Cohn.

* The year before, Garth Brooks became a household name with his blockbuster album "No Fences." But his 1989 debut, "Garth Brooks," eliminated him from the category, where, admittedly, he still would have been a long shot to beat winner Mariah Carey.

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