A class of low-order models for vortex-induced vibrations is analyzed. A classical van der Pol equation models the near wake dynamics describing the fluctuating nature of vortex shedding. This wake oscillator interacts with the equation of motion of a one degree-of-freedom structural oscillator and several types of linear coupling terms modelling the fluid-structure interaction are considered. The model dynamics is investigated analytically and discussed with regard to the choice of the coupling terms and the values of model parameters. Closed-form relations of the model response are derived and compared to experimental results on forced and free vortex-induced vibrations. This allows us to set the values of all model parameters, then leads to the choice of the most appropriate coupling model. A linear inertia force acting on the fluid is thus found to describe most of the features of vortex-induced vibration phenomenology, such as Griffin plots and lock-in domains.