Four lads in jeans: viral meme and sea shanty explained - and who designed paper mache statue in Birmingham?

The meme all began as a normal picture of a group of lads posing for a photo before enjoying a night out

Believe it or not, one of the biggest viral memes to hit the UK in recent years is that of a seemingly ordinary picture of four guys gathered together before a night out in Birmingham.

Now, the four lads in question have been honoured with their own bronze papier-mâché statues. But who are the “four lads in jeans” - and why did their picture go viral?

This is everything you need to know.

What is the ‘four lads in jeans’ meme?

The “four lads in jeans” meme came about when, in 2020, a picture of friends Kevin Rooney, Alex Lacey, Jamie Phillips and Connor Humpage on a night out together in 2019 went viral.

The four lads were pictured in front of All Bar One in Birmingham, a British bar, and went viral due to the way they were dressed.

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Decked out in super skinny trousers, tight shirts and a bunch of tattoos, the men represented everything stereotypical about a British “lads night out”.

Humpage uploaded the picture to his Instagram account with the caption: “Tight trousers chose us.”

The picture that started it all (Photo: Instagram/@cj_humps_tattoos)

After the picture was picked up by a viral Facebook page, people online began to use the image in accompaniment for comments about what stereotypical British lads would say - like “loving Peaky Blinders” and claiming that “Anthony Joshua would batter Muhammad Ali”.

At first the captions about the lads were harmless, but it quickly took a turn wherein they became the faces of the racist views found in the UK.

With things like Black Lives Matter, the killing of George Floyd in the US and statues of slave owners being torn down in the UK being the biggest topics at the time, the captions began referring to those issues.

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One in particular that bothered the guys in the picture the most was a tweet that said: “‘It’s sad what ‘appened to that black geezer in America but all this rioting and looting is just not on mate’”, with their picture attached underneath.

Speaking to The Tab, Phillips said: “It’s just not on. The last thing you want your face associated with is racism.”

Humpage added: “It’s stereotyping normal lads for being racist and simple, which couldn’t be any further from the truth.

“It’s just stereotyping dumb things said by white lads.”

Did they sing a sea shanty?

On 14 January, a Twitter account by the name of @vonstrenginho tweeted a deepfake video of the picture in question that showed the four guys singing the Wellerman sea shanty that went viral on TikTok in late 2020.

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The user captioned the video on Twitter by writing, “Sea shanty tiktok is WILD”, with the tweet garnering over 176,000 likes and 7.2 million viewers.

Who made the paper mache sculpture?

The sculpture was created by Birmingham artist Tat Vision, whose real name is Well Douglas.

The installation was created as part of the Birmingham Weekender event, an arts event held in the city, which ran over Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 August.

The artist said that he felt he had to create something for the lads because “they looked like Greek statues of old”.

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He said that the papier-mâché sculptures took a couple of weeks “on and off” to create, and added: “I don’t think they’re going to last.”

Douglas predicted that someone would likely try and take their heads off whilst on a night out, but said he would be happy if they managed to survive at least a couple of days.

Birmingham Artist William Douglas AKA Tat Vision unveils his sculpture ‘Four Lads in Jeans’ outside All Bar One at Grand Central in Birmingham City Centre (Photo: SWNS)

Prior to the statues being completed, the artist told BirminghamLive: “The idea was inspired by the “Ronaldo statue” and “Boulton, Watt and Murdoch” near the library.

“I shipped the idea of doing it for the Commonwealth Games, but it was too late. Fortunately I was put in contact with Birmingham Big Weekender and had the go ahead from them.”

He added: “I used four women mannequins, which I covered in tight-fitting ladies jeans and tops. The heads are made from papier mache and all of it was painted to have a nice, shiny bronze effect.”

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Talking about the meme itself, he said: “I first saw the Sea Shanty one and was perplexed and very amused. I got obsessed with it when I found out it was Birmingham-based.

"I love the proportions of their muscular upper-half, and the tightness of their trousers. It’s like they’re being squeezed out of them. They all seem really lovely guys.”